Peacock Looks to Beijing Winter Olympics for a Second Chance

Peacock Looks to Beijing Winter Olympics for a Second Chance


Audie Norman

signed up for

Comcast Corp.’s


CMCSA -0.10%

Peacock last summer after hearing that the streaming service made it possible to watch the Tokyo Olympics without a pay-TV subscription, which he hasn’t had in at least a decade.

When the 42-year-old Macon, Ga., resident and his wife, Julia, tried to watch the Olympics’ opening ceremony—Ms. Norman’s favorite event—he realized it wasn’t available on the service. Neither were most Olympic competitions, which were broadcast live exclusively on NBC and its sister cable channels, which like Peacock are owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit.

“We had to see it in clips and highlights,” Mr. Norman said of the opening ceremony. He canceled his premium ad-free subscription to Peacock the next month.

NBCUniversal is looking to avoid disappointing anyone planning to give Peacock a try for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are to begin in Beijing later this week. The company said that this time, the entirety of its Olympic broadcasts would be available live on Peacock’s premium tiers, which cost $4.99 a month with ads, or $9.99 without.

“I think we learned some valuable lessons in Tokyo,” NBC Sports Chairman

Pete Bevacqua

said of the company’s coverage across all platforms, including Peacock and NBC, during a recent company event. “I would be the first to admit we realize we had to make it easier for the viewer.”

The 2022 Winter Olympics are to begin in China later this week.



Photo:

Yang Shiyao/Associated Press

During the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. men’s basketball games were the only events live-streamed on Peacock’s premium tiers, while the streaming service’s free tier included limited live showings of events like gymnastics and track and field. Most other events were shown in replays and highlights. Many Peacock subscribers who were still new to the platform said they weren’t sure if some Olympic events were unavailable on Peacock or just hard to find.

“It was such a pain in the butt to find stuff, so it just soured the whole thing for us,” said

Justin Perricone,

40, who lives outside Boston and gave up on Peacock after a week. He instead signed up for an over-the-internet TV bundle to watch the Games.

NBCUniversal declined to comment further for this article.

“It was always our vision to make the entire Olympic and Paralympic experiences available on Peacock,” said

Matt Strauss,

chairman of the direct-to-consumer and international division, during NBCUniversal’s recent presentation of its Olympics coverage. Peacock President

Kelly Campbell

said the company focused on making the service easier to navigate ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

The coming Olympics are an important opportunity for Peacock, which was launched in 2020 and has been called out by analysts as being slow to gain traction. It is competing among a growing field of streaming platforms, from established players such as

Netflix Inc.

and

Amazon.com Inc.’s

Prime Video to newer entrants such as

Walt Disney Co.

’s Disney+ and

AT&T Inc.’s

HBO Max.

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“They certainly have a lot of egg on their face after a very unsatisfying user experience during the Summer Olympics,” said analyst

Craig Moffett

of MoffettNathanson LLC. “They said you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but there’s lots of customers for whom this will be the first impression.”

Peacock is still working to beckon customers. Comcast on Thursday said more than nine million people were paying for Peacock, while another seven million cable and broadband customers of Comcast and other providers, which access the premium tier for free, used Peacock regularly.

Peacock will also air the Super Bowl on Feb. 13, the same day that “Bel-Air,” a reboot of the hit comedy “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” will premiere. The film “Marry Me,” starring

Jennifer Lopez,

will premiere on Peacock and in theaters two days earlier. The service is also establishing itself as a destination for live sports and features events like English Premier League soccer games and

World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.

programming.

For the Beijing Olympics, Peacock is to feature the same curated broadcasts being shown on NBC or cable channels like USA Network. Alternatively, consumers can select the specific events they want to watch. Since all Olympic content is being featured on Peacock’s subscription tiers rather than its free version, pay-TV distributors haven’t raised much, if any, noise, according to people familiar with the matter.

Many events in Beijing are set to take place in the middle of the night for Americans. NBC said that while much of its prime time coverage will be live because of the time difference, some events will be prerecorded.

China is enforcing a strict set of rules at the Winter Olympics to stop the spread of Covid-19. From a “closed-loop” system to a ban on shouting, WSJ explains how some of these restrictions will work, and why an outbreak could still derail competitions. Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

TV ratings for Olympic Games have also been on a downward trend, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics drew the lowest audience for the Summer Games since NBC began broadcasting them in 1988. The company attributed it to challenges posed by Covid-19, as some athletes were unable to participate, and no spectators were in the stands.

The pandemic is posing similar challenges for the Beijing Winter Olympics. Beijing’s strict testing regimen caused NBC to keep its announcing team, even its biggest stars for marquee events like figure skating, in its Stamford, Conn., facility, rather than on the ground at the events.

NBC plans to have its news team and two analysts in Beijing to “cover the issues that impact the games, as needed,” said

Molly Solomon,

executive producer and president of NBC Olympics, during the company’s presentation.

“We are going to be focusing on telling the stories of Team USA and covering the competition,” Ms. Solomon said. “But the world, as we all know, is a really complicated place right now, and we understand that there are some difficult issues regarding the host nation.”

Messrs. Perricone and Norman, two former Peacock subscribers frustrated with the service during the Tokyo Olympics, said they would give Peacock another shot for the Beijing Olympics. Mr. Norman said his wife is looking forward to watching the opening ceremony, and he suspects they will also catch a lot of skiing, figure skating and curling.

Write to Lillian Rizzo at [email protected]

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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