Peacock review: The best free streaming TV service with ads

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Peacock, the streaming service from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, is an experiment of sorts. Its tiled interface and big-name network make it look like NetflixHuluDisney Plus and HBO Max. But unlike those services it actually has a version that’s completely free, providing a wealth of live news and sports and a large back catalog of TV shows and movies. In that respect, it’s similar to free streaming services such as Pluto TV, Tubi and Roku Channels, but it has a better selection of exclusive, familiar shows and movies.

Like

  • Strong free version
  • Large back catalog of shows and movies
  • Live news and next-day access to some NBC shows
  • Live sports like WWE and the Tokyo Olympics

Don’t Like

  • Full access to major shows, originals and live sports isn’t free
  • Few original series or movies from the past decade
  • Channels and Trending sections are confusing
  • Missing features like mobile downloads for all tiers and 4K HDR

Peacock’s free tier offers about 13,000 hours of ad-supported content. You’ll find shows, movies, news, live sports and skit-style clips, with standouts including Modern Family, 30 Rock and The Bourne Identity. The Office moved from Netflix to Peacock in January, but you can only watch the first two seasons on the free tier — you’ll need to upgrade to Peacock Premium at $5 a month to binge it all. The same is true for Parks and Recreation. You’ll also only get two episodes of new original series, such as Brave New World, if you upgrade to premium. The original Psych movie sequel, the popular series Yellowstone.

Peacock’s live sports offering is a strength, although again the biggest events require a Premium subscription. It has English Premier League soccerNHL hockey and WWE wrestling — all of which are restricted to Premium — and for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo it will stream gymnastics, track & field, and men’s basketball events live. All of Peacock’s Olympics coverage will be available on the free tier except for live USA Men’s Basketball games, which require a Premium subscription. 

At launch, Peacock lacked a number of features, including compatibility with the popular Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices. But in September, NBC and Roku reached a deal, and the Peacock app is now on Roku devices. The same happened with Amazon in June, and the Peacock app is now on TV devices, too. The service has also added the ability to create user profiles, and mobile downloads, but the latter only for its most expensive subscription plan. Peacock still doesn’t offer mobile downloads for its cheaper tiers or 4K HDR streaming — both of which are available on the paid competition like Netflix and Disney Plus.

Peacock: NBC streaming service with original content

Peacock has three subscription tiers: Free, $5 a month for ad-supported premium and $10 a month for ad-free premium.


Sarah Tew/CNET

If you upgrade to the Premium tier ($5 a month or $50 a year, with ads) or the Premium Plus tier ($10 a month or $100 a year for no ads), you’ll get access to the full catalog of 20,000 hours of content, including every episode of The Office and its original series. You’ll also get next-day access to new episodes of all current NBC shows (as opposed to just freshman series on the free tier), and even early access to Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon the night they air.

If you’re a big fan of NBC’s stable of shows, want to catch up on some past hit movies or just don’t want to shell out the cash for Netflix or Hulu, the free version of Peacock is great. But whether you’re willing to pay $5 to $10 a month when you already have the other major streaming services will depend on how much you want to watch The Office, Yellowstone and live sports like the Olympics.

Read more: Peacock free or Premium? Ads or no ads? Here’s how to pick the right streaming plan

Streaming compared

Peacock Netflix Hulu HBO Max Disney Plus
Monthly price Basic free with ads, Premium with ads for $5 or ad-free Premium Plus for $10 Starts at $9 Basic $6 with ads, Ad-free for $12, Live TV for $65 $15 $7
Ads Yes, with basic and first Premium tier No Yes, with basic tier No No
Top titles The Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Law & Order, Brave New World Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit, Breaking Bad, The Crown Handmaid’s Tale, Catch-22, Lost, Bob’s Burgers Entire HBO catalog, Studio Ghibli films, DC films The Mandalorian, WandaVision, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story, The Simpsons
Mobile downloads Yes (on ad-free Premium Plus plan) Yes Yes (on ad-free plan) Yes Yes
4K available No Yes (on Premium plan) Yes No Yes
HDR available No Yes (on Premium plan) No No Yes
Number of streams 3 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 2 (Unlimited with Live TV and a $10 add-on) 3 4

About those ads

I tested out Peacock’s ad-supported free tier and its ad-supported $5 a month Premium tier. (You don’t need a credit card to sign up for the free account, just an email address, which is nice.) Peacock promises that you’ll see 5 minutes or less of ads per hour across both ad-supported tiers. But it does seem like if you pop in and out of a movie or show, the ad count may reset. And at least in my experience, there seemed to be fewer ads on the premium tier than the free tier, but I haven’t tested it out long enough to know for sure. 

While watching Jurassic Park (which, as of Aug. 1 2020, has expired on Peacock and moved over to Netflix) on an Apple TV and a MacBook Air, there were six ads sprinkled throughout the film, ranging from 20 to 60 seconds each. But when it played on the iPhone app, there was a notice that we would watch 135 seconds of ads at the beginning, and none for the rest. That option would be great to have on the Apple TV too to get the ads out of the way, but unfortunately you don’t get to choose your ad format. 

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Peacock has a pleasant interface, but some features are still missing.


Sarah Tew/CNET

After scrolling around and watching a bunch of ads, when I went back to start Jurassic Park again, there were no ads at all, since I had already seen 5 minutes’ worth in the previous hour. 

On episodes of Saturday Night Live, there were seven to nine ads sprinkled throughout the episode on both mobile and TV. This is about the same ad experience as watching on Hulu’s $6-a-month ad-supported plan, or on regular live TV — except it’s free. 

Otherwise, the ad experience varied depending on the show and device. I don’t love ads (who does?), but they weren’t intrusive enough for me to want to upgrade to a $10 plan, at least right now. 


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A familiar navigation experience (for the most part)

Navigating through Peacock’s homepage Browse section is similar to other streaming services. There’s a big carousel of “hero” tiles at the top and rows of thumbnails below, labeled Peacock Picks, Continue Watching, Peacock Originals, Featured Films, Laugh Out Loud, Comfort TV and so on. 

Peacock: NBC streaming service with original content

Browse through a large catalog of TV shows and movies on Peacock.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Peacock does have a Kids page with a couple of popular shows like Curious George and, on premium, Dragons: Riders of Berk, but the catalog is definitely more adult-focused — you can’t compare its kids’ offerings to those of Disney Plus or HBO Max. You can set parental controls and create a PIN to keep kids from watching anything over the rating of your choosing, though. 

Premium shows are mixed in with free offerings, denoted by a little purple feather in the top left corner. It reminds me a bit of Amazon Prime Video, which has shows included in your subscription mixed in with those you have to pay extra for. The app isn’t forceful in trying to get you to upgrade, though: You’ll only be asked if you want to change to premium if you click on a premium-only show, or if you go to your Account page.

You can stream on up to three devices simultaneously from one account. One negative: Unlike on Netflix, there’s no “skip intro” button, so you’ll have to hear theme songs over and over unless you manually fast-forward.

Browsing deep into NBC’s back catalog

Peacock’s formal launch in July 2020 came at a strange time: Due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down film productions, many of its originals were pushed to 2021 or later. Its launch was also supposed to coincide with NBC’s live coverage of the summer Olympics, which has also been pushed to 2021. 

Still, there’s plenty to watch among the 13,000 hours of free content or 20,000 hours of premium content from NBC and its sister networks and entertainment properties, including Bravo, USA Network, SYFY, Oxygen, E!, CNBC, MSNBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel, Illumination, Universal Kids and Universal Pictures. There’s also some content licensed from rivals, including A&E, ABC, Fox, History, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks Animation, Focus Features, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Blumhouse, CBS, Showtime, Paramount and The CW. 

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You’ll find every season of shows like Parks and Recreation, but only partial seasons of others, like This is Us.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Some of the best shows available on the free tier now are 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Downton Abbey, Monk and Friday Night Lights, and you get all seasons of each. Upgrade to premium to get the complete run of older shows, including Cheers, Frasier, House, Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond and George Lopez. For some shows, however, you get only a recent handful of seasons or episodes, even on premium. For example, you’ll only find the last six seasons of Saturday Night Live and a handful of episodes of This Is Us. 

The free tier will also get current episodes of freshman NBC shows (those airing their first season) the day after they air, and episodes of other NBC shows one week later. On the premium tier, you’ll get every NBC show the next day. One interesting perk for premium subscribers: Once Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon return to in-studio production, you’ll be able to watch them before they air, at 8 p.m. ET, instead of waiting until 11:30 p.m. ET.

The catalog is far from complete, however. Some shows you might associate with NBC, like Friends, Seinfeld and older seasons of Saturday Night Live, aren’t on Peacock, and won’t be soon, if ever. 

At launch, there were seven originals: Brave New World, The Capture, Intelligence, Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, Where’s Waldo?, Cleopatra In Space and Curious George. At this point, none have become must-watch hits, like The Mandalorian on Disney Plus. 


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In the Movies category, you’ll find hundreds of titles, but relatively few from the past decade. (Think Alfred Hitchcock rather than Bong Joon-ho.) In the Rotten Tomatoes Approved belt, you’ll find about 20 movies, but only a few from the past few years (including 2017’s John Wick 2). You’ll find tons of classics, however, from Psycho to Schindler’s List to The Breakfast Club. All of the Harry Potter movies are here, too (though only the first three are available on the free tier). 

Peacock: NBC streaming service with original content

Find some live news and lots of news clips on Peacock.


Sarah Tew/CNET

However, many of Peacock’s big-name movies don’t always stick around for long. On the desktop and iOS versions of the app, you can see how many days you have left to watch a given movie if it’s leaving soon. The original Jurassic Park trilogy and The Matrix trilogy expired at the end of July, just a few weeks after the service launched. Others that have come and gone include Reservoir Dogs, Do the Right Thing and Phantom Thread. They may come back, though, a company representative said. And soon, you’ll be able to see how long you have to watch a given movie before it expires across all platforms.

For titles that aren’t obvious classics, Peacock helpfully displays Rotten Tomatoes ratings. Movie thumbnails may include a red-tomato, “fresh” rating but don’t display a score if the movie is rated “rotten.” You can see the score for any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating, good or bad, after selecting it.

While some services have started streaming theater-bound movies early (such as Hamilton on Disney Plus), Peacock executives say it has no plans yet to do the same. However, Trolls World Tour did arrive as a Premium movie offering in September 2020. 

Channels and Trending aren’t what you think

From Browse, you can navigate to the Channels section of the app. Channels looks kind of like a cable box grid guide, but instead of networks and cable channels, you get rows curated around a show or theme. Disappointingly, most of the shows aren’t new. The first channel, SNL Vault, shows a mix of Saturday Night Live sketches from over the years. Two others — Fallon Tonight and Seth Myers Now — have full episodes from about a month ago. 

The Office channel is labeled as Office Shorts and shows a scene from one episode here followed by a scene from another episode there, which is not the ideal way to digest Office reruns. The Hell’s Kitchen channel does show complete episodes, and there were complete episodes of Ghost Hunters on the Out of this World channel. The rest of the channels, 32 in all, are a mix of true crime, reality TV, news and so on. 

Peacock: NBC streaming service with original content

Peacock’s “channels” look like live TV, but for the most part are not. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

Next to Channels, the Trending tab is also not super useful — scroll through 10 tile-like pages that start autoplaying news, late night clips or sports highlights. It’s kind of like flipping through 10 TV channels, and finding only YouTube clips. 

You can find some live news programming however. NBC News Now Live is one of the channels, and Sky News also streams live. NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd will stream same-day on the NBC News Now channel, or in the News tab — which could appeal to YouTube TV subscribers who aren’t pleased with the recent price hike and want to make a switch but still have access to live news. However, you can access all of those live news sites and day-old broadcasts from their websites on desktop, anyway, so they aren’t exclusive to the platform. You’ll also find NBC’s new 24-hour version of the Today Show, called Today All Day, though that includes repackaged Today segments and more lifestyle programming than straight news. 

When it comes to live sports, the free tier will get some Premier League games, as well as the US Open Championship, the Women’s Open Championship and an NFL Wild Card Playoff Game. On premium, you’ll get more Premier League matches, coverage of the Tour De France, and more than 100 hours of WWE content starting in August of this year. 

Still MIA: Mobile downloads for all and 4K HDR

While there’s not too much to complain about in the free tier, the premium offerings still lack several features that competitors like Netflix and Hulu already have. 

You can stream Peacock on Apple devices such as the iPhone and Apple TV and Google devices including Android phones and the Chromecast. It also works on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles, Vizio SmartCast TVs and LG Smart TVs. As of Sept. 21, 2020, Peacock is also available on Roku devices. And as of June 24, 2021, Peacock is finally available on Amazon Fire TV devices, too. 

Some time after launch, Peacock added mobile downloads, but only for Premium Plus subscribers. It also allows you to create separate user profiles. And you can set parental controls on shows of different ratings, and manage them with a PIN.

Despite the positive changes, Peacock still lacks support for 4K HDR video or Dolby Atmos, though the company says both of these are also on the future roadmap. While it still looks good, originals like Brave New World and some of the major action movie franchises would have benefited from upgraded video and sound quality.

You may be able to find a deal based on your cable provider: Comcast X1 and Flex subscribers get the premium with ads version free, or the no-ads version for $5 a month. Cox customers get the same deal. 

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You can’t download Peacock shows on your mobile device unless you pay for the top premium tier.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Should you get Peacock? 

It’s free, so why not try it out? If the ads bug you or you want to watch one of the original shows, you can try out its premium tiers free for seven days as well, or find other deals depending on your platform and cable provider.

Will Peacock make it onto your daily streaming routine, alongside Netflix and Hulu? Probably not, at least in the short-term. But is it a great free option for finding some older movies and shows you might have missed (or want to watch for the millionth time)? Definitely. If you don’t mind watching a few ads, it’s a fun place to explore older movies and a big mix of TV shows, and keep up with current NBC shows, news and some live sports in one spot — especially if you’re already a cord-cutter and looking to expand your options for free. 

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