NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock officially launches tomorrow

The next big media streaming service arrives tomorrow, as NBCUniversal launches Peacock.

The service has already been available to parent company Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex cable customers since April, but tomorrow marks the launch to a general audience, with anyone in the United States able to sign up and access Peacock on a range of devices including iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, Android and Android TV devices, Chromecast, Xbox One, Vizion SmartCast TVs and LG SmartTVs.

Peacock will also launch on Sony’s PlayStation 4 on July 20 — but as with WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, there does yet not appear to be an agreement to bring the service to Amazon’s Fire TV or Roku.

Like most streaming services, Peacock will combine original programming with a library of existing content, including shows like “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Saturday Night Live,” as well as movies like “Jurassic Park,” “The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum” and classic Universal horror.

When executives unveiled the service at an event in January, NBCUniversal Chairman Steve Burke argued that “affordability will be critical as more subscriptions are launched.” That’s why there’s a free, ad-supported tier — something that Burke said NBCUniversal still benefits from (now that Disney has taken operational control of Hulu) because it can control the consumer experience and sell its own ads.

The company says the free tier will include more than 13,000 hours of content, including older shows and movies, as well as new episodes of current shows like “This is Us” and “The Blacklist,” one week after they air. There will also be live sports including four exclusive Premier League soccer matches, coverage of the U.S. Open, an NFL Wild Card Playoff Game and eventually, events from the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics. (Peacock’s launch was supposed to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics, until they were postponed due to the pandemic.)

The free version will also include sample episodes of Peacock Originals like “Brave New World” and the upcoming reboots of “Battlestar Galactica,” “Punky Brewster” and “Saved by the Bell,” but to get full access you’ll need to pay $4.99 per month to get Peacock Premium, or $9.99 per month to go ad free. As part of today’s announcement, NBCUniversal is also announcing launch dates for several Peacock Originals — “A.P. Bio” premieres September 3, “Departure” premieres September 17, “Five Bedrooms” premieres August 17 and “Hitmen” premieres September 3.

The premium tier includes 20,000 hours of content, with next-day access to current shows and the ability to watch new episodes of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers” at 8pm Eastern, before they air on linear TV.

I’ve had a chance to try the service out for myself. On one level, the interface of any one streamer is pretty similar to the others, with the usual grid of show and movie icons. But Peacock offers a few different approaches to browsing, with curated channels that air in linear fashion and a Trending section with news, sports and entertainment clips. In general, there’s a bigger emphasis on the linear and live TV experience, including news and sports, rather than being purely on-demand like Netflix.

Is there room for another streaming service? Although streaming viewership has boomed during the pandemic, new services have sometimes struggled, with Quibi executive Jeffrey Katzenberg blaming coronavirus for the app’s disappointing launch, while analysts criticized the HBO Max launch as “chaotic.” Plus, there’s the whole question of when production on original programming can resume.

Still, the NBCUniversal library could be a real draw. And it’s hard to argue with the price.