Peacock’s interface aims to recreate the feeling of live TV, but it comes up short

Technology

Every new streaming service is looking for standout features to differentiate themselves from the competition, and Peacock’s features try to combine three different types of experiences in one app: a traditional streaming interface, a curation of small, short-form newsy moments, and “live TV.” But after a few days with the Peacock app, what became very apparent to me is the app isn’t as robust as Comcast’s ambitions for it.

Depending on how people watch Peacock, they’ll be presented with two different viewing options. For people using Peacock on a TV, the app will automatically open up in “Browse,” the main streaming portal. A version of Browse being used on an iPhone XR can be seen in the left image below. For people using a mobile device or tablet, Peacock will open up in “Trending,” which acts as a collection of short news, entertainment, and sports clips. Think of it like a mixture of Instagram, YouTube, and Quibi all rolled into one.

Let’s start with Browse, as many people are likely to stream Peacock via their TV sets, connected devices like PlayStation and Xbox consoles, or an Apple TV unit. The Browse section isn’t particularly inventive or impressive, but it works. Anyone who’s used Netflix or Hulu will already have a concrete understanding of how to use this particular section of the app. What it does accomplish, however, is showcasing NBCUniversal’s impressive catalog. It’s a treasure trove of IP laid out in an easy-to-navigate fashion that aggregates a ton of good TV in one place.

Peacock’s main emphasis is on NBCUniversal’s catalog of titles. Considering that Peacock is launching without too many originals, having a library of beloved and in-demand titles is essential. Each row is designed to remind subscribers that NBCUniversal has a little bit of everything, from reality TV shows (including the Real Housewives series and Keeping up with the Kardashians) to acclaimed comedies (30 Rock, Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond) to procedurals (Law and Order: SVU, Law and Order: Criminal Intent) and competition and home renovation shows.

In that way, Peacock succeeds at reminding people why it should become an app they’ll open consistently. The first four tabs — Featured, TV Shows, Movies, and Kids — cater to that audience. It’s the fifth and sixth tabs within the browsing section that offer a little bit more insight into how Peacock differentiates itself from its competitors beyond content alone.

Peacock has a dedicated news and sports tab and, most days, those tabs will be populated with live programming. On the news side, the top tile — that’s what Peacock’s team is calling the main slot at the top of the page — will likely change to NBC’s newly announced 24-hour Today Show programming, Today All Day. For sports, a similar design will be used, but when it comes to high-profile exclusives like Premier League matches, those live events will have their own tile at the top of the Browse homepage with prominent promotion of the games.

If Peacock’s vault of content is its biggest draw, why does the mobile version focus on its short clip “Trending” page? I couldn’t tell you. There isn’t anything substantial about the section. It doesn’t solve anything that NBCUniversal’s Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube pages don’t already do.

The only reason I can see for having the section highlighted is because it feels like something that should be on a phone. The clips are short, and scrolling down through them is easy enough. NBCUniversal can also use the section to point Peacock subscribers toward what’s happening; for example, Premier League live games will be flagged as such within the Trending tab for people looking to jump into the game.

Based on my time with the app, Trending isn’t an area I imagine people will use frequently. That said, the Peacock team is working on ways to expand its capabilities and offerings, and the team sees it as a way to help differentiate the service from its competitors. The Trending section also helps play into the area that Peacock really wants to sell subscribers on: live content.

To really hammer home that point, Peacock has a “Channels” section that is designed to emulate traditional, linear TV. At its core, Peacock is like a reimagined basic cable package. Channels, seen in the screenshot below, try to make that more obvious by catering to different interests. Channels dress up Peacock to make it look like there are several live options, but Peacock doesn’t actually carry any live NBCUniversal cable channels. There’s no always-on NBC Sports, for example; but Peacock will have a dedicated channel for sports highlights that include clips and other sports-adjacent shows. That could change with the arrival of the Tokyo and Beijing Olympics in 2021 and 2022, respectively.

There are a couple of live news options, but most of the channels listed are groupings of on-demand content that Peacock seems to filter into a linear, “live” display. Clicking on the True Crime channel will play an episode of Forensic Files, but that isn’t live entertainment. Still, having a drop-down channel guide felt very familiar and was comforting to me — that’s the goal.

Gidon Katz, head of direct to consumer at NBCUniversal, told The Verge prior to the app’s launch that what they learned over the last three months is people wanted to feel like Peacock was “alive.” Channels can recreate that basic cable feeling because you can click on a title while browsing and just have it start playing, but it’s not quite there yet. The channels aren’t overly exciting, and they’re not live in the literal sense of the term. The Peacock team is looking to expand its offerings in the coming months.

As a general streaming service, Peacock mostly succeeds. The Browsing section is more or less what we’re used to, and it’s more than enough. If Peacock’s team can figure out what to do with Trending and Channels, the opportunity for Peacock to be something special certainly exists. Right now, the app feels crowded with features that are only half-figured out when, in reality, all I really want from a streaming service is my shows and movies in one place that’s easy enough to browse through and with thoughtful content design. Peacock’s Browse section does that; and I find myself just staying in that area whenever I use Peacock.