NBC's Peacock arrives last to streaming wars, but has a valuable weapon: It's free (with ads)

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USA Today

At a time when viewers are weighing the cost of adding yet another streaming service, Peacock, from NBCUniversal parent Comcast, arrives Wednesday with a price that's hard to beat: $0.00.

The new free service, and a "premium" tier ($4.99 monthly) that launches with nearly 20,000 hours of programming, includes commercials, though you can avoid them by paying an extra $5.

Launching in a market already crowded with services that rely on paid subscriptions, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and more recent arrivals Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max, doesn't faze Peacock chairman Matt Strauss, who sees Peacock's price structure as an asset.

"I think there's this growing sense of subscription fatigue, where you have all these choices, but you're paying for them all and they quickly add up," he says. "We're trying to approach streaming in a different way, the combination of high-quality programming that's available at a very affordable price. There's nothing more affordable than free."

The NBC connection brings sports and news, two genres not available on many streaming services. NBC News Monday announced "TODAY All Day," a new portal also available on TODAY.com. Current and past seasons of Telemundo shows are included on Peacock, too.

The streaming service has not revealed whether all or part of "The Office," which Peacock gets exclusively in January when its Netflix deal ends, will be on the free or paid tier. Another NBC fan favorite, "Parks and Recreation" will be on the free tier in October when Peacock gains exclusive streaming rights.

Peacock also will be the exclusive home for 1,000 episodes of Dick Wolf's "Law & Order" and "Chicago" franchises.  

Peacock's rollout was timed to launch in concert with NBC's coverage of the 2020 Summer Olympics, now postponed until next year by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

But a pandemic-related rise in streaming could partly compensate for the loss of the Olympic marketing opportunity, says Lisa Herdman, senior vice president at ad firm RPA. She doesn't think Peacock's later arrival to the streaming club will be a problem.

"Most streaming channels of any sort of pedigree have a chance right now. (Streaming) viewership is up," she says. Peacock "has a couple of things that are beneficial. It's free and it has an arsenal of (older) programming" at a time when many are nostalgic.

Peacock isn't immune to the effects of the production shutdown that has affected all TV and film production. Remakes of "Battlestar Galactica," "Saved By the Bell" and "Punky Brewster," along with the podcast-based "Dr. Death" with Jamie Dornan and Alec Baldwin, won't be available at launch.

Where can viewers get Peacock?

Since April, 15 million subscribers of Comcast's Xfinity and Flex cable and streaming services have received premium access at no extra charge; Cox subscribers get that same deal starting Wednesday.

Strauss says early on, family viewing was a big draw.

"What we did find pretty early was that a lot of people who were sheltering in place were really looking for comfort-food television," he says.

Like HBO Max, Peacock is not yet available on the two largest streaming platforms, Roku and Amazon Fire, but viewers will be able to access it on Apple devices, Microsoft Xbox devices, Google platforms and devices and Vizio Smartcast and LG smart TVs. Other options include the Peacock app or peacocktv.com.

So, what do you get for free?

The free tier will include more than half the programming hours of the service. As some are on Hulu, current NBC shows will be available – just a day after broadcast for premium subscribers; a week later for free – and viewers can watch "30 Rock," "Downton Abbey" and "Friday Night Lights." The film library includes such classic favorites as "Jurassic Park" and "E.T."

"Saturday Night Live," "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers" will be available, with clip-based channels highlighting the best of Fallon, Meyers and the "SNL" vault.

Peacock relies heavily on the TV and film libraries of NBCUniversal properties, including NBC, USA, Syfy, E! and Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation. But it also extends to non-exclusive programming from other studios, including "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Frasier," "Cheers" and "The Carol Burnett Show."

"We didn't call ourselves NBC Plus. We called ourselves Peacock. That's partly because we always had an eye toward this bigger version of how we want to aggregate content, much broader than just NBCUniversal," Strauss says.

What additional programming will  premium subscribers receive?

For $4.99, premium subscribers also receive such popular shows as "Two and a Half Men," "House," "Yellowstone." along with "Shrek" and "The Bourne Identity."

Peacock eventually plans to offer premium viewers the chance to watch Fallon and Meyers hours ahead of their network slots, a move that has been delayed due to the pandemic's effects on production.

At launch, most of the original series will be available exclusively on the premium tier, although selected originals, such as "Psych 2: Lassie Come Home," will be free.

New shows include:

• "Intelligence," a comedy starring series creator Nick Mohammed and "Friends" alum David Schwimmer as a mismatched pair of investigators whose unlikely partnership could threaten the fight against cyber terrorism.

• "Brave New World," an adaptation of Aldous Huxley's classic novel, imagining a utopian society where peace is guaranteed by prohibiting privacy, money, and history. Demi Moore, Harry Lloyd, Jessica Brown Findlay and Alden Ehrenreich star.  

• "The Capture," a conspiracy thriller that considers the contemporary issues of fake news and all-seeing intelligence services. The cast includes Ron Perlman and Famke Janssen.

What's available in news and sports?

Peacock will feature daily highlights from NBC News and Telemundo News, along with NBC News NOW and Sky News channels.

On the sports side, premium subscribers will be able to watch more than 175 Premier League soccer games during the 2020-21 season; "In Deep with Ryan Lochte," as the gold-medal-winning swimmer seeks a return to the Olympics at 35; and "Lost Speedways," a look at forgotten race tracks hosted by Dale Earnhardt Jr.  

How about kids TV?

Peacock offers new, exclusive episodes of “Curious George,” entertaining and educational programs based on the classic children's book character, and two DreamWorks Animation series: “Where’s Waldo?” and "Cleopatra in Space."

The library includes “Woody Woodpecker,” “Top Chef Jr.,” “Sabrina: The Animated Series,” “Fievel’s American Tails,” “Care Bears,” “New Adventures of He-Man,” “Big Fun Crafty” and “Baby Einstein Classics.”