Peacock is a streaming service from NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast Corporation. You can watch many of your favorite NBC shows and have access to other videos including shows and movies as well as original content from Peacock. The Peacock app is free from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. There are in-app purchases available to unlock even more content.
If you are only looking for titles with audio description, Peacock has over 100 titles as of October 20. They started offering audio description in June 2021. You can find a list of currently available titles with audio description on the American Council of the Blind Audio Description Project website. Peacock has informed AccessWorld that a method for accessing a list of titles with audio description from NBCUniversal directly should be available soon.
NBCUniversal made us aware that they have first prioritized the accessibility on the most commonly used devices, which are Smart TVs and streaming devices like the Apple TV, followed by the web platform. iOS and Android accessibility is the current focus for the company and they expect substantial improvements in the next few months.
Peacock does not provide phone support, which was verified when I called NBC in New York. They do provide chat support, which is accessible, and they have an extensive help section. I will discuss my experience with Peacock’s chat support later in this article.
Peacock supports many devices including iOS 12 and above and Android 6.0 and above. They provide support for web browsers, the Apple TV, and many other streaming devices and smart TVs.
Getting Started with Peacock
You can sign up for Peacock through their app or through the website. You will be asked to enter your email address and to create a password.
Peacock offers three subscription plans. The free version has ads and content limitations. If you want access to all Peacock content, choose the Premium plan, which costs $4.99 per month or $49.00 per year. The Premium Plus plan has fewer ads and costs $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. If you choose Premium or Premium Plus, you will need to enter payment information.
Check Peacock’s website for a free trial and free upgrades from certain providers.
Creating a Profile on iOS
Once your sign-up process is complete, the next step is to create a profile. This is not optional and here is where accessibility issues begin. As part of the profile process, you will need to choose an avatar from numerous options, all of which are unlabeled graphics when using the iOS app. On my iPhone, I had VoiceOver Recognition enabled including image descriptions, but this did not help in locating avatar choices. VoiceOver did not say anything when I put my fingers on the avatars. With sighted assistance, I selected one. A new screen loaded with various options including TV and Movies. The only way to get back to the profile screen was to touch the avatar. Unfortunately, that did not work when I tapped in the general area of the avatar. With sighted assistance, I got back to the profile screen. VoiceOver read the basic text, but did not say the names of the profiles on the screen and associated avatars. The information was on the screen but not accessible to VoiceOver.
When I used the website on my Mac with VoiceOver, when I was asked to choose a profile avatar, a list of unlabeled buttons was presented. I randomly picked one that turned out to be a dinosaur. On the profile screen, VoiceOver did read the profile name. Selecting a profile with the usual Control+Option+Spacebar sent me back to the avatar selection screen. With the VoiceOver cursor on the profile name, I performed a mouse click with Shift+Option+Control+Spacebar. This worked. I did not need to have the mouse pointer on the VoiceOver cursor.
I contacted Peacock’s chat support on August 18 and explained about the unlabeled graphics. The agent said she would escalate the case. That night, a person from Peacock tech support called me, said he would find out about how to solve the problem, and said he would call me back. Unfortunately, the agent has yet to respond.
Whether you use a mouse click on the Mac or activate your avatar with or without sighted assistance, a new screen will load with content to watch. Once this part of the set-up is done, you should automatically end up on the main screen when Peacock is launched.
Activating Audio Description
If you have some usable vision, you might be able to activate audio description (abbreviated “AD”) independently on Apple products. Since I don't have usable vision, I needed sighted assistance. Once the feature is enabled, AD should remain on. I used the latest version of iOS 14 on three different iPhones (iPhone 7, iPhone X, iPhone XS) to check this out. I did the same test on my MacBook Pro with the latest version of mac OS Big Sur. My iPhone X did not keep audio description on, but the other devices did. In early October I purchased an iPhone 13 Mini and installed iOS 15. When I started playing described content, Peacock apparently remembered my Audio Description setting. I did not have to enable it. I selected a show I hadn’t watched and the audio description automatically worked. Also, unlike the iPhone X, my iPhone 13 mini kept the setting.
Again, I spent a great deal of time with chat support. Two different agents provided the following instructions, intended for a sighted user, which should work for activating audio description on both iOS and on the web:
- Launch the content you would like to watch.
- Scroll a bit down to pull up the content navigation options and you will see a rectangular text bubble icon on the left side. You will see the rectangular text bubble icon next to the "I" icon below the navigation controls.
- Please click on the text bubble and you will see Audio and Subtitles option. Then hover over the Audio option.
- Once you hover over the audio option, you will see two options stacked on top of the audio option: select the "English" option on top of the English AD option.
I explained to the agents that none of the graphics in the instructions are labeled. Subsequently, the agents closed the chat.
With sighted assistance, I tried to turn on audio description on the iPhone. I tried it with VoiceOver both on and off. I was instructed to perform a series of taps on different parts of the screen. A list of controls came up but they disappeared in 3 seconds. I learned from my sighted assistance that other controls including playback controls also disappeared. Both when using VoiceOver and when turning it off, controls only appear on the screen for a short time before being hidden again, meaning that they do not register at all to VoiceOver.
I also needed sighted assistance to enable audio description on my Mac.
Peacock on an iOS Device
On the app’s main screen, the easiest way to navigate is by flicking right. Although Headings and Containers are in the VoiceOver rotor, VoiceOver read a few containers and no headings. The iOS version has the same categories as on the Peacock website.
At the bottom of the screen are three options: Browse, Channels, and Search. Unfortunately, the Search button is not accessible with VoiceOver. I turned VoiceOver off, tapped the bottom right corner of my screen, and turned VoiceOver back on. Sometimes I needed several attempts for this to work.
On the next screen is an edit box for entering your query. Once a query is entered, select the Search button at the bottom right on the screen. Below the edit box are two options: Results and Clips. VoiceOver does not give any indication about which option is selected. VoiceOver also does not read the search results.
Flick right past the Clips option and then double tap. With luck, you will be on the first search result. Double tap and a new screen will load. This screen will display information for the search. Peacock keeps a record of your past searches and VoiceOver reads that information. When browsing through content using various categories, or launching the full list of TV shows or movies, individual shows/movies are not labeled when using VoiceOver.
Peacock on the Mac
In my opinion, the web version of Peacock works significantly better than the iOS version. It’s not perfect, but it is easier to use. Peacock’s main screen can be navigated with rotor options including Headings, Links, and Forms. Even with all these navigation options, I recommend using Up and Down Arrow keys to explore the website. There are links such as Channels, Browse, Movies, and Featured. Headings include Continue Watching, Peacock Picks, and Kids Corner. Buttons include Account and Search. Once you find something to play, select the link associated with the program or movie.
Once content is playing, VO+Right Arrow until you hear how much time has elapsed and how much time is left for whatever you are watching. After that is a group of unlabeled buttons. On all the buttons, VoiceOver says, “Toggle button. You are on a check box.” The buttons are:
- Info. This gives information about the movie or TV show you have chosen.
- Options for subtitles and languages. AD is listed here, when available. Audio description must be set up using the instructions listed above, otherwise it won't work.
- Rewind. Goes back ten seconds.
- Forward. Goes forward ten seconds.
- Full screen or window.
- When watching a TV show, there is a seventh button, labelled, called More Episodes.
As we have done for other services in this series, below you will find accessibility findings from other platforms from other authors. Aaron Preece has provided accessibility findings for using the service on Windows or on an Apple TV.
The Peacock website was tested on a computer running Windows 10 using the NVDA screen Reader with the Firefox browser. Using Peacock on Windows is similar to using the service on the Mac. The account creation process is fully accessible, and when creating a profile, the buttons for choosing an avatar are labeled distinctly, e.g., "Choose Avatar 1". Browsing and searching for content is accessible, just remember to check the entire screen if it seems that you activated something but cannot determine where the new content appears. For example, when I was changing seasons in a TV show, the list of seasons appeared above the options for Episodes, More Like This, etc.
When playing content, the playback controls are unlabeled but follow the layout listed in the section detailing using Peacock on the Mac. When opening subtitle and audio options, these buttons do have labels fortunately. In addition, if you turn off NVDA's browse mode and tab through the interface, you will be able to focus the web player and then use the following keyboard controls for playback: Spacebar for Play/Pause, Left and Right Arrows for Rewind and Fast Forward respectively, and Up and Down Arrows for volume. When watching live TV, there are two unlabeled buttons toward the top of the page. One is unavailable, but the other will mute or unmute content. Note for all playback controls, there is no change in the button's state even when the control is a toggle. The buttons are always listed as "Unpressed".
Apple TV seems to be the most accessible of the methods we tested for watching Peacock. Profiles themselves are unlabeled but can be activated regardless and the only element of note that does not have a label is the search option. Note that if you immediately begin scrolling through the app you may see many unlabeled options. Waiting a moment before scrolling through a category seems to allow the app to fully load the labels.
The playback controls when playing content are fully accessible, including the Play/Resume button and the options for activating subtitles and Audio Description. Note that the audio description and subtitle options seem to be in somewhat of a grid, so might be confusing to navigate at first.
Peacock on X1
The X1 platform is Comcast's cloud-based operating system, collecting television content from a number of sources onto one device or through a mobile app. We did not have access directly to Peacock on X1, but were provided a demonstration of the current accessibility of Peacock on the X1 platform by Comcast. the platform has its own screen reader called Voice Guidance, which can be activated directly with two presses of the dedicated accessibility button. In fact, pressing the button will launch the accessibility menu, while the second activates Voice Guidance, the first item on the menu. Voice Guidance functions similarly to other streaming device screen readers such as VoiceOver on Apple TV or VoiceView on Amazon Fire TV. Generally, when you navigate using Voice Guidance, you will hear your currently focused item followed by more information if it is available and information on how to navigate in the current screen. The Peacock app appears to be fully accessible using this system with one minor hiccup that stood out to us. When navigating Peacock content from the main screen of the Peacock app, the navigation instructions are read before the title of the content that you have focused. A workaround we discovered that makes the process of navigating faster, is to navigate to the end of any given content row and select the "View All" option. On the subsequent screen, the content is read first, making navigation much quicker. The only areas where this "View All" option might not be available are rows containing featured content, since they generally only have a few select content options.
If you are using a smartphone or tablet as your primary device for watching streaming content, we can't recommend you check out Peacock at this time as the accessibility issues make the app unusable. Though we did not discuss it above, a quick review of the Android app seemed to result in similar issues as were reported with the iOS app.
If you are using a desktop/laptop computer, particularly if you are using Windows, and are someone who does not mind navigating around inaccessible controls, you might find Peacock a good option for you.
If you are using an Apple TV as your main device for watching content, you should have no problem using Peacock.
That being said, if you encounter issues and need help, be aware that tech support staff do not seem to be well versed in access technology.
Based on our discussions with the Peacock team and the fact that the Apple TV experience is so accessible along with the partial access features on the web interface, especially the use of Aria, we are optimistic that the experience for mobile users will improve in time. This will be especially important for Peacocks success among the blindness community going forward, as often a mobile device is the primary device people with vision loss, especially those without usable vision, use for watching their favorite media. We will be keeping an eye on the accessibility developments from Peacock and will be bringing you an access update for the mobile experience when accessibility is improved.
Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, offers a world-class slate current season, iconic library, and original movies and shows from across NBCUniversal and beyond, as well as live news and sports. The catalog of audio described titles available on Peacock continues to grow, currently offering more than 1,500 audio described episodes across more than 100 hit series including all Peacock Originals such as Girls5Eva, Rutherford Falls, Dr. Death, and One of Us is Lying, and fan favorites like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Chicago Fire, and new hits such as Young Rock, Mr. Mayor, and Law & Order: Organized Crime. Launched in July of 2020, Peacock is currently available and screen reader accessible across pay-TV platforms including Xfinity X1, connected-TV devices including Apple TV, and smart TVs including Samsung and Vizio. Working closely with The Paciello Group to advance its efforts across platforms, Peacock is improving accessibility on iOs and Android devices as a priority for the first half of next year.
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.