NBC's Peacock sorta launches. The real Peacock won't show up for a while

Peacock goes live Wednesday as a "sneak peek" on Comcast. You won't get the full Peacock until July, and even that will be pared back due to coronavirus.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Peacock, NBCUniversal's new streaming service, starts life as a "sneak peek" preview for certain Comcast customers Wednesday. 


Peacock's streaming service officially kicked off Wednesday. But for many people curious about NBCUniversal's first strike in the streaming wars, the launch may be easier to understand by what you won't get now: You can't get Peacock at all unless you're a Comcast Xfinity X1 or Flex subscriber, as originally planned. Even if you are one of those Comcast customers, you won't get a mobile app, web viewing or streaming on a TV-connected device other than Comcast's own box. You also won't get Peacock's new original programming except for a few kids titles. 

You won't get The Office yet, either. (Because Netflix still has it...) 

And when Peacock does eventually launch for everyone in the US, it will have only a handful of originals because of the coronavirus

"Like you, we're all really unclear on exactly when certain things are going to go back to normal," Matt Strauss, the head of Peacock and chairman of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, said Tuesday in a briefing. "We're going to do everything we can to try to accelerate, but we also see the value of doing some testing and learning with the Xfinity platform."

But during this pandemic, when people across the US are sheltering in place and isolated from friends, family and other entertainment, Peacock is sticking with a slow-burn strategy right as people are most fired up about streaming. (Comcast knows what demand is like right now: Its pay-TV service has seen a 50% surge in on-demand viewing compared with a year earlier.) 

Peacock will still launch nationally on July 15, which means anyone in the US can start streaming. The coronavirus has shut down television productions globally, and the majority of Peacock's originals have paused production too.

That "will materially limit our original slate at launch," Strauss said. The sci-fi drama Brave New World is "essentially done," the service's Psych 2 movie is in good shape, and the company is optimistic its Punky Brewster and Saved by the Bell reboots will be available this year. 

But Peacock, he said, "will arguably really be hitting its stride" in 2021.

Peacock is NBC's combatant in the streaming wars, a half-year window when media giants and tech titans are releasing a tide of new streaming services to take on Netflix. These competitive battles will determine who shapes the future of television -- but they'll also affect how many services you have to pay for to watch your favorite TV shows. Peacock in particular proves even traditional TV networks and cable companies like Comcast are placing big bets they'll never turn the tide of cord-cutting. 

The company may launch Peacock nationally earlier than July 15, Strauss said. But the plan to roll out first with Comcast customers ahead of a full US launch was still "a very aggressive timeline" even before problems from the coronavirus. 

"We're not measuring ourselves on necessarily what we do or what happens over the next couple of months. We really believe that this is a long-term strategy and opportunity," Strauss said. And the coronavirus disruptions could lead to different kinds of content with stars who otherwise wouldn't have been available in normal times, he added. 

Still, when it launches nationwide, Peacock will have a limited free tier. This free version of the service includes ads and will wall off roughly half of Peacock's programming. But Peacock originally planned to use its originals an important lure to upsell free users into paid subscriptions. For example, Peacock originally planned to offer only select episodes of its originals free, withholding the rest inside its paywall.

But with fewer original exclusives to put behind its paywall, free users may be missing out on less, making a paid subscription less enticing. 

Preview-version Peacock

As planned before the pandemic, Comcast's NBC launched the Peacock streaming service Wednesday for Comcast pay-TV customers with its high-end Xfinity X1 cable service and for people with its internet-delivered Flex video service. It's available Wednesday to all Flex customers; X1 customers will start to get it Wednesday, and Peacock will roll out across the full X1 footprint by the end of April.

This preview version of Peacock will be free for those Comcast customers. 

In this preview period, the service has a library including catalog titles like Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock and Law and Order; high-profile movies from its studios like Universal and Dreamworks Animation; news and cultural content; and trending-style shorter clips like Tom Hanks' home-recorded monologue for Saturday Night Live last weekend. 

Peacock also begins its Late Night Early concept during this preview, which lets Peacock viewers watch Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show and Late Night with Seth Meyers earlier than their normal broadcast times. But because of the coronavirus' effect on TV production, this Late Night Early concept will be showing segments from the slimmed-down versions of those shows that Fallon and Meyers are shooting out of their homes. Those will hit Peacock every day at 9:30 p.m. ET.

But the vast majority of Peacock's original programming, which includes shows from big-name stars and a bunch of reboots (including reboots of reboots), is mostly on hold. The initial version of Peacock will have new exclusive episodes of Curious George, Where's Waldo? and Cleopatra in Space. (Peacock will also stream the NFL Wild Card Game and the concert special One World: Together at Home.)

Peacock doesn't yet support 4K or high-dynamic-range video quality. 

Comcast customers can watch Peacock free with ads or pay $5 a month to remove advertising. (If they want to upgrade to ad-free, X1 and Flex customers can do so on www.peacocktv.com.) At the national launch, as planned, non-Comcast customers have the option of a limited, ad-supported free tier; an all-inclusive ad-supported tier at $5 a month; and a $10 tier that gives you all that but without any ads. 

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Watch this: Peacock pricing, bundles and shows: The lowdown on NBC's streaming service