NBC’s Tokyo Olympics coverage left viewers hanging. This time it promises a ‘safety net’

A view of the Olympic Rings is seen during sunset at the Shougang Park in Beijing.
A view of the Olympic Rings is seen during sunset at the Shougang Park in Beijing.
(Leo Ramirez / AFP via Getty Images)

A 16-hour time difference. An overloaded schedule spread across a complex array of channels. Disappointing performances from star athletes. Miserable weather. A resurgent pandemic. Empty stands. Political controversy. Social media spoilers.

NBCUniversal’s broadcast of the Tokyo Olympics last summer had numerous inspirational triumphs courtesy of gymnasts Simone Biles and Suni Lee, swimmer Katie Ledecky, sprinter Allyson Felix and several others.

But the highlight reel was accompanied by a flurry of complaints, with viewers expressing exasperation and confusion with the maze of viewing options across NBC, Peacock, USA Network, the Olympic Channel and other broadcast, cable and streaming platforms, making it difficult to pinpoint events. NBC’s primetime broadcast one evening showed a rugby match while top tennis star Naomi Osaka was playing live on the Olympic Channel.


USA's Nathan Chen spins on the ice
USA’s Nathan Chen takes part in a training session at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on Jan. 31 ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Games.
(Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP via Getty Images)

Nathan Chen raises his hands while competing in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Nathan Chen skates in the Men’s Free Skate during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville.
(Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Between tape delays, weather-impacted outdoor contests and news alerts about results, watching the Olympics came to feel like running the 110-meter hurdles.

Then there were the broader challenges, both long-looming and unforeseen: a crisis of legitimacy surrounding the International Olympic Committee, Biles’ sudden withdrawal from competition because of mental health issues and racist abuse hurled at stars like Biles, Osaka and Lee.

Beginning Thursday, however, NBC has an unlikely shot at redemption: Just six months after the Tokyo Games, the Winter Olympics in Beijing provides an opportunity to smooth out the rough spots in the viewing experience with new strategies — even as other difficulties, such as the Omicron surge and China’s human-rights abuses, encroach on the Games’ message of unity through sport.


The Times TV team discusses watching an often deflating, thoroughly chaotic Olympics — and why NBC’s approach to televising it is part of the problem.

July 27, 2021

“The upside of getting to do an Olympics a couple of months after another is that you immediately get to really listen to the viewer feedback and our own critique of ourselves and our presentation, and we really focused on making the thousands of hours we produce more intuitive and findable,” Molly Solomon, president and executive producer of NBC Olympics Production, said in a presentation laying out plans for the coverage.

The most significant shift — and the one likely to be most appreciated by Olympic fans —will take place on Peacock, which will stream all events live and on demand. A section of the streamer’s home page will be dedicated to the Olympics, and the platform will feature an Olympic hub with comprehensive daily schedules, live events, replays, curated highlights, exclusive daily shows and original documentaries. (These features are available to subscribers of Peacock’s premium tier, which costs $4.99 a month or $49.99 per year.)

Chloe Kim of Team United States catches air before the women's snowboard superpipe final
Chloe Kim of Team United States takes a warm-up run before competing in the women’s snowboard superpipe final during Day 5 of the Dew Tour at Copper Mountain in Copper Mountain, Colo.
(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

Chloe Kim smiles during an interview
Chloe Kim of Team United States is interviewed after her final run of the women’s snowboard superpipe final during Day 5 of the Dew Tour in Copper Mountain, Colo.
(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

“I think we learned some valuable lessons in Tokyo,” said NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua. “We’re proud of ... all the hours of content we had, but I would tell you, I would be the first to admit we realize we had to make it easier for the viewer to navigate that, to digest the amount of Olympic content. And I think one of the great things about Peacock is people will know that is your safety net, your home for all things Olympics.”


The website has also been customized. Viewers will be able to find schedules, platforms and information for all events. Studio segments will also have tickers reminding viewers of coming events and where they are being shown.

More than 2,800 hours of coverage of the Beijing Games, which is smaller and more intimate than the Tokyo Games, kicks off on the eve of Friday’s opening ceremony with a live team figure skating competition. (Prime-time coverage, or “Prime Plus,” will be live across the country in all time zones.) The broadcast of the opening ceremony will be shown live Friday morning on NBC and Peacock and again during NBC’s prime time with an enhanced presentation that will focus on Team USA.

Because of COVID-19 protocols, play-by-play announcers will be based at NBCUniversal’s studio in Stamford, Conn. The same remote strategy was used for the Tokyo Games.

“Again, we’ve gone through this, rightly or wrongly, for good or for bad,” said Bevacqua. “We’ve been dealing with live sports during a pandemic for 18 months, including the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. So this team is tested. This team is ready. There are plenty of operational challenges. You can’t be caught flat-footed. You have to understand that you are going to call audibles along the way.”

Shaun White flies high on a training run.
Shaun White of Team United States takes a training run for the Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe competition at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth.
(Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)


Shaun White looks into a mirror while being fitted in Polo Ralph Lauren gear
Shaun White gets fitted in Polo Ralph Lauren ahead of Beijing 2022 in Los Angeles.
(Amy Sussman / Getty Images for USOPC)

Among the marquee athletes NBC is promoting to generate interest are figure skater Nathan Chen, snowboarders Shaun White and Chloe Kim, alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin and freestyle skier David Wise. The rivalry between the U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey teams is also being spotlighted.

Similar to Tokyo, the Games are taking place in an environment of political controversy, albeit of a different tenor. Human-rights groups have criticized the IOC for holding the event in China, which is accused of persecuting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, while also cracking down on political opposition and free speech in Hong Kong. The U.S and its closest allies are staging a diplomatic boycott of the Games, by holding back their official delegations from attendance.

“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,” Solomon said. “Our coverage will provide perspective on China’s place in the world and the geopolitical context in which these Games are being held. But the athletes do remain the centerpiece of our coverage.”

USA's Mikaela Shiffrin tackles the slopes in the Women's Giant Slalom.
USA’s Mikaela Shiffrin competes in the second run of the Women’s Giant Slalom event as part of the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships in Kronplatz, Italian Alps.
(Jure Makovec / AFP via Getty Images)


Mikaela Shiffrin of Team United States looks over the course
Mikaela Shiffrin of Team United States inspects the course during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women’s Giant Slalom.
(Alexis Boichard / Agence Zoom / Getty Images)

Two Beijing experts have been recruited to provide political perspective and analysis. Andrew Browne, editorial director of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum and former China editor at the Wall Street Journal, will be joined by cultural historian Jing Tsu, a professor of China studies at Yale. NBC News will be on site, and the network’s Beijing bureau will also be providing reports.

As in Tokyo, international fans and families of athletes are not allowed to attend. Coverage of the events will include cutaways to watch parties in Lake Placid, N.Y., Park City, Utah and other locations, and crews will cover families of Team USA athletes watching at home.

The capstone of the coverage will be the extra boost of attention certain to come from NBC’s broadcast of the Super Bowl on Feb. 13, in the middle of the Olympics, giving the network simultaneous sports spectacles that will likely be among the most widely watched events of the year.

Does enjoying the spectacle of the Olympics mean ignoring the issues they raise? The Times TV team explores how facing reality could help the Games.

July 30, 2021

Dubbed “Super Gold Sunday,” live Olympics coverage will precede the network’s Super Bowl festivities. Two live gold medal finals — freestyle skating and women’s “monobob” bobsled — immediately follow the Super Bowl.


“The fact that we can have the two biggest events in all of sports in the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics really on top of each other is a great opportunity,” Bevacqua said. “If we can’t get excited for that, we are probably in the wrong business.”

David Wise soars in the men's ski superpipe final
David Wise competes in the men’s ski superpipe final on Day 4 of the Dew Tour at Copper Mountain.
(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

David Wise of Team United States signals his delight
David Wise of Team United States celebrates on the podium after placing second in the Men’s Freeski Halfpipe competition at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain.
(Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)