Five-ring Circus

To My Shock, Peacock Has Figured Out the Olympics

Trust me: It’s the best $10 I’ve ever spent.

Three dudes in USA uniforms curling, the middle guy pushing to rock and the others brooming away, seen from above, with Olympics rings and Beijing 2022 logos on the ice
Matt Hamilton, Christopher Plys, and John Landsteiner of Team United States compete against Team ROC during the men’s round robin session at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the National Aquatics Centre on Wednesday, in Beijing. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

There was a time, not that long ago, when the arrival of a new Olympics would see me heading off to the airport. It wasn’t the Games I was fleeing. It was NBC. I loved the biennial goof-fest too much to have it ruined by the schmaltzy, jingoistic, favorites-focused inanity of the U.S. TV coverage. Instead, I’d head abroad, where I’d be subjected to fewer tear-jerking human-interest segments and have the opportunity to see every end of a curling match. Since most Canadian cities pick up the U.S. networks, crossing the Northern border was the percentage move, since I could revel in the expert north-of-the-border commentary and then sneakily check in on NBC during the Canucks’ commercial breaks to see how much better I had it than the chumps who’d stayed home.

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Over the years, I’ve chilled out and become more parsimonious with my frequent-flyer miles. Maybe I got bored of repeating the same complaints, maybe the NBC coverage got better, or maybe my interest in wacky events like modern pentathlon and skeleton waned. By 2021, I’d pretty much checked out of the Olympics entirely. Pandemic staying-in had given me a new, earlier bedtime, so I was fast asleep before NBC got to the big events in Tokyo. And, most embarrassingly, as someone who fancies herself technically adept, I simply could not figure out Peacock’s streaming offerings. No matter where I clicked, I found myself trapped in a shouty studio chat-show that made me long for the days of Bob Costas. At least he didn’t yell at me.

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Still, as someone who is on record as believing the Winter Olympics are the best Olympics, last weekend I decided to give Peacock a second chance and sign up for the $10 per month ad-free option. And, I can’t believe I’m typing this, but it’s the best 10 bucks I’ve ever spent.

Why is it so fabulous? First, and most basic: It works! In 2020, the Peacock user interface was a horrifying mess.* In 2022, it’s a breeze. Using the Peacock app on Apple TV, I can easily navigate from sport to sport, event to event, and round to round. Take curling, a sport I claim to be a fan of yet watch only every four years. At each stage of the now-completed mixed doubles competition, I could see the upcoming schedule, watch live matches, or catch up on any contest that had already been decided. I’ll admit that sounds basic—the bare minimum that an Olympics app should do. But after the nightmare of four years ago, the fact that Peacock does what it should is a delightful surprise.

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Peacock also gives me access to all the non-NBC coverage I could ever want to watch. In curling, the world feed commentators—so modest they’re not even identified—wear their expertise lightly, explaining the sport’s complicated strategies without getting too basic. In other words, they flattered me—I didn’t have to endure endless discussion of the source of the curling stones, multiple explanations of the term shot rock, or have to watch a cute video about the Chinese bagpipers who accompany the curlers onto the ice with a rousing rendition of “Scotland the Brave.” I also appreciated that I had options: I could watch the match in real time, skip ahead to the final rocks in each end, or fast-forward to the dramatic conclusion. If I had an hour and a half, I could watch the whole thing, if I had 10 minutes, I could choose my own adventure, my remote control helping me glide through the action as smoothly as the curlers’ Teflon-soled shoes send them sliding down the ice sheet.

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When it comes to sports I’m less familiar with, I’ve been even more appreciative of Peacock’s flexibility. NBC has spread the Games over multiple TV channels for decades now, so if you went into an Olympiad knowing you wanted to see every hockey game, you could set your DVR to record all the action. The problem was, if you realized a few days in that relays and mass-start events were your sporting jam, you couldn’t turn back time and catch what you missed. Peacock’s Olympic channel makes time-travel possible, allowing me to catch up on anything that’s already in the record books. Once I’ve clicked the My Stuff button on events with the words “Mass Start” in the title, it’ll save all that chaos so I can watch it later.

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Peacock also enables my delusions of expertise. One of the things I’ve always loved about the Olympics is that everyone’s a pundit. Who’s going to know enough about bobsled to call me on my nonsense? But I’ve always known I’m bluffing, piecing together something someone from Wisconsin once told me with fuzzy memories from back when there were two Germanys. The Bobsled section of the Peacock app brings together highlights from the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, clips from 2021 World Cup competition—the races that matter to people who aren’t Olympics dilletantes—and a few human-interest pieces like the ones Bob Costas and Mary Carillo used to cue up back in the day.

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And here’s where I admit that this self-styled hard-core Olympics fan, who swore that what she really wanted was to watch some damned races, who was going to peep every jump off the normal hill and sit through every second of the skiathlon, found herself hitting play on a few of those heartwarming videos. Nathan Chen is such a great piano player! Elana Meyers Taylor’s family life is so inspiring! Mikaela Shiffrin’s bereavement is still so raw! Maybe those tear-jerking segments aren’t so bad, just as long as I’m the one controlling the sports-to-schmaltz ratio.

Correction, Feb. 10, 2022: This article originally referred to watching the 2018 Olympics on Peacock. The first Olympics shown on Peacock were the Tokyo Games in 2021.

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