Future Tense

Why Is It So Hard to Use NBC’s Peacock to Watch the Olympics?

At least you get Snoop Dogg sports commentary.

A peacock
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Ahead of the Olympics, NBC heralded its streaming app Peacock as a new outlet for sports coverage where users could watch live events and commentary for free. But kind of like actual peacocks in Southern California, the app has been an annoying mess. Not only does it fail to live up to its promise, but lots of people are also confused when they’re supposed to try to tune in on Peacock as opposed to NBC’s other myriad platforms.

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NBC first planned to roll out Peacock to coincide with the original dates of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. When the Games were postponed because of COVID-19, NBCUniversal did a soft launch in April 2020, before expanding the platform to all users a few months later. The service offers both a free, ad-supported version and paid subscription tiers that give access to more content. (Xfinity Internet users and those who already have cable can access the middle tier of Peacock with expanded viewing choices for free.)

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Now that the Olympics have rolled around, NBC is back to touting Peacock. In particular, it has used both advertising and social media to emphasize the idea that you can watch some events live on the app.

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But saying you can use Peacock to watch live Olympics coverage is a bit of a stretch, even setting aside the time zone challenges. Peacock itself is a bit confusing. There’s a website as well as a smart TV app, and both offer a combination of on-demand content (where you can select which events/shows you want to watch) and live channels. Think Netflix for NBC, mixed with some actually live content.

However, most of the Peacock coverage for Tokyo is pre-recorded episodes of replays and highlights with commentary from Snoop Dogg and a live (at least the first time) daily highlights show from the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen. Eisen’s Tokyo Gold recap show takes up eight hours of daily coverage, with seven of those hours being replays of the first one.

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Also included in the Peacock on-demand offerings is Snoop Dogg and Kevin Hart’s comical take on Olympics coverage, which includes highbrow insights like Snoop’s suggestion to American jumper Will Claye to “wear some smaller shoes … put on some size 6s” to avoid false starts in competition.

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I will note one positive of Peacock’s coverage: On Her Turf. This show, which airs from 7 to 7:30 Eastern during competition days, focuses on Team USA’s female stars, like Katie Ledecky and Alix Klineman. But I’d question how dedicated Peacock is to elevating female sports stories, when it spends seven—seven!—hours repeating highlights all day long only to focus for a brief 30 minutes on only American women.

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And the actual live coverage of events? It’s pretty limited. An NBC Sports article outlines the schedule for Peacock streaming (mostly gymnastics and track prelims), but pretty much only early morning content. The prime-time schedule for Peacock Olympics coverage is said to be determined, but each night I have found nothing available live when I go to check. (To be fair, part of this is due to time differences, but some other NBC channels are still showing coverage at this time.) Peacock will broadcast the team gymnastics finals for both men and women for free, but to watch any of the men’s basketball coverage you must upgrade to Peacock Premium—which costs $4.99 a month (unless, again, you already have Xfinity Internet or a cable subscription). It’s another $5 to get rid of ads.

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But that’s the point of all of this: NBC doesn’t want you to enjoy a ton of free streaming. It wants to entice you to purchase a subscription. Executives have been prepping for more than a year to boost subscriptions through this one marquee event, following the strategy of exclusive content–driven subscription models that have typified the launches of platforms like HBO Max and Disney+. Honestly, it has worked: Peacock posted its best Saturday ratings ever.

You would think, after an entire year of planning, the live coverage wouldn’t be so annoying even when you can access it. For example, Wednesday’s Iran vs. U.S. men’s basketball game? You can only watch it on Peacock or NBC’s Olympics website. It’s not on cable at all—and again, you must have access to Premium to watch it on Peacock.

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To recap: Most events aren’t live on Peacock at all. Some events (and popular ones at that) are only on Peacock’s paid version. If you want to watch everything, you’ll have to flip between streaming devices and cable. And that’s if you even still have cable.

In the words of Slate’s resident gymnastics expert Rebecca Schuman, who grew tired of Peacock, “This Olympics is brought to you by my baby boomer mother’s cable login.” Cheers to you, baby boomers, and shame on you, Peacock.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

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