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Peacock’s interface is meant to mimic the feel of live TV, but it falls short

Every new streaming service is looking for standout features to set itself apart from the competition, and Peacock’s features try to combine three different types of experiences into one app: a traditional streaming interface, a collection of small, short new moments and ‘live’ TV “But after a few days with the Peacock app, I became very clear that the app is not as robust as Comcast’s ambitions for it.

Depending on how When people watch Peacock, they are presented with two different viewing options. For people using Peacock on a TV, the app will automatically open in “Browse”, the main streaming portal. A version of Browse used on an iPhone XR can be seen in the left image below. For those using a mobile device or tablet, Peacock opens in ‘Trending’, which acts as a collection of news, entertainment and sports clips. Think of it as a mix of Instagram, YouTube and Quibi, all put together. (The edge got a preview version of the app so some content was not available.)

(Disclosure: Comcast, owner of NBCUniversal, is also an investor in Vox Media, The edge‘s parent company.)

The main browse page as seen in the Peacock app on an iPhone XR.

The “Trending” page is what opens when the app is launched on mobile phones.

Let’s start with Browse, since many people are likely to stream Peacock through their TV sets, connected devices such as PlayStation and Xbox consoles or an Apple TV unit. The Browse section isn’t particularly inventive or impressive, but it works. Anyone who has used Netflix or Hulu already has a concrete understanding of how to use this specific section of the app. What it does achieve is to present the impressive NBCUniversal catalog. It’s a treasure trove of IP laid out in an easy-to-navigate way that gathers a ton of good TV in one place.

Peacock’s main focus is on NBCUniversal’s catalog of titles. Since Peacock launches without too many originals, it is essential to have a library of much-loved and much-requested titles. 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, Everyone loves Raymond) to procedures (Law and order: SVU, Law and Order: Criminal Intent) and competition and home renovation shows.

That way, Peacock manages to remind people why it should become an app that they will open consistently. The first four tabs – Recommended, TV Shows, Movies, and Kids – are suitable for that audience. It’s the fifth and sixth tabs in the browse section that provide a little more insight into how Peacock stands out from its competitors, except for content alone.

Peacock has a special tab for news and sports and most days those tabs will be filled with live programming. On the news side, the top tile – which is what Peacock’s team calls the main slot at the top of the page – is likely to change to NBC’s recently announced 24-hour Today Show programming, All day today. A similar design is used for sports, but when it comes to high-profile exclusives like Premier League games, those live events have their own tile at the top of the Browse homepage with prominent promotion of the games.

If Peacock’s content vault has the greatest appeal, why is the mobile version targeting the short clip “Trending” page? I couldn’t tell you. There is nothing substantial about the section. It doesn’t solve anything that NBCUniversal’s Twitter, Instagram and YouTube pages aren’t doing yet.

The only reason I can see that the section is highlighted is because it feels like something that should be on a phone. The clips are short and you can easily scroll through them. NBCUniversal can also use the section to alert Peacock subscribers to what is happening; For example, Premier League live games are marked as such in the Trending tab for people who want to jump into the game.

Based on my time with the app, Trending is not an area I think people will use often. That said, the Peacock team is working on ways to expand its capabilities and offerings, and the team sees it as a way to differentiate the service from its competitors. The Trending section also helps to play in the area where Peacock really wants to sell subscribers: live content.

To really highlight that point, Peacock has a ‘Channels’ section designed to mimic traditional linear TV. At its core, Peacock is like a redesigned base cable package. Channels, seen in the screenshot below, try to make that clearer by catering to different interests. Channels dress up Peacock to make it look like there are several live options, but Peacock doesn’t actually have live NBCUniversal cable channels. For example, there is no always-on NBC Sports; but Peacock will have a dedicated channel for sports highlights with clips and other sports related shows. That could change with the arrival of the Olympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

There are a number of options for live news, but most of the channels listed are groups of on-demand content that Peacock seems to filter into a linear, “live” view. Clicking on the True Crime channel will play an episode Forensic filesbut that is not live entertainment. Still, having a drop-down channel guide felt very familiar and reassuring to me – that’s the goal.

Gidon Katz, head of direct to consumer at NBCUniversal, said The edge prior to the app launch, what they’ve learned over the past three months is that people wanted to feel that Peacock was “alive.” Channels can recreate that basic cable feel because you can click on a title while browsing and just let it play, but it’s not quite there yet. The channels are not overly exciting and they don’t live in the literal sense of the word. The Peacock team plans to expand the offering in the coming months.

As a general streaming service, Peacock usually succeeds. The Surfing section is pretty much what we’re used to, and it’s more than enough. If the Peacock team can figure out what to do with trending and channels, chances are Peacock is something special. Right now, the app feels full of features that are only half off, when in reality I am all I really want from a streaming service, my shows and movies in one place easy enough to browse and with thoughtful content design. Peacock’s Browse section does that; and I find myself just staying in that area when I use Peacock.