Peacock’s moment to shine is finally here with the Olympics

Eyes on the prize.
Eyes on the prize.
Image: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon
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When NBCUniversal announced it was launching a new streaming service, Peacock, last summer, the Tokyo Olympics were supposed to carry it to victory. As the games’ longtime exclusive US broadcast rights holder, the company hoped Peacock would be indispensable to viewers for the duration of the Olympics—and thereby enter the increasingly crowded streaming race with a bang.

But then the pandemic happened, delaying both the Olympics and also Peacock’s true arrival. It still launched last July, but with comparatively little fanfare, and has struggled to grow an audience since. The service has about 42 million users, but only a small fraction of them actually pay for it. The rest access it either through its free, ad-supported tier, or via cable TV packages.

Peacock will host Olympic events live

So with the Olympics finally going ahead this month (albeit without fans), it’s NBCUniversal’s chance to show off what Peacock can do. Keenly aware of quadrennial complaints from viewers that too many big events aren’t broadcast live, NBCUniversal is making Peacock the only place where viewers in the US can watch gymnastics and track and field events as they unfold in realtime. (Tokyo and New York have a 13-hour time difference.) The company’s flagship network, NBC, won’t carry those moments live. And if you want to watch live coverage of the US men’s basketball team, you’ll have to sign up for Peacock’s “Premium” tier, at $5 per month.

It’s a bold but decisive move to make Peacock—a one-year-old service with few users—such a central component of the Olympics experience. But it’s what NBCUniversal needs to do to compete against mega-companies like Netflix, Disney, and, now the merged WarnerMedia-Discovery conglomerate. The Olympics is one of NBCUniversal’s most lucrative properties, so if they struggle to increase Peacock’s profile in the months following the games, then maybe nothing will.