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How NBCUniversal turned the Olympic postponement into multiplatform gold

July 1, 2021 | By Charlotte Ricca – Independent Media Reporter@Charlotte_Ricca

Covering any Olympics is a monumental challenge. But broadcasters of the Toyko Games face challenges like no other in history. Few are feeling it more than NBCUniversal (NBCU) and its parent company Comcast, which hold rights to the Games. The announcement that Tokyo 2020 would be delayed until 2021 due to Covid-19, hit the media across the business – from advertising revenue to the launch of Peacock, its new streaming service.

However, just as the athletes are coming back stronger from a season off, NBC says this extra year has left them fully prepared for the challenge ahead. It recently announced plans to present 7,000 hours of Olympic coverage, making the 17-day affair the “biggest media event ever.”

“We have spent the better part of the last 14 months learning how to do things differently,” Pete Bevacqua, Chairman, NBC Sports Group, said in a recent press event on the network’s coverage plans. “Those skills … will absolutely apply themselves as we tackle what should be, I think, one of the most interesting and special Olympic Games ever.”

Olympics everywhere

Part of this new, improved package involved working up with other platforms to ensure that people can watch what they want, when they want. In addition to Comcast’s X1 pay-TV platform, partners like Roku and Apple TV will feature Olympic dashboards, which will guide viewers to the Games. NBCU has been working directly with a range of platforms to develop content that fits with the needs of their audience, given the specific delivery channel.

The network has also created strong partnerships with Google Search and Google OneBox. Many people will decide what to watch by going to Google, and NBCU is prominent in the Google OneBox with viewing information and highlights. And, significantly, NBCU will do a major programming push on Peacock, to help build audiences for the streamer. The company also recently announced that Peacock will launch on Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets.

Peacock will feature new daily live shows and dedicated Olympics channels, as part of its Tokyo Olympics destination, which goes live on July 15. The streaming service currently has around 42 million subscribers. Matt Strauss, Comcast Chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, is “very optimistic” that the Olympic coverage will bring a new, larger audience. However, Strauss says the company is not prioritizing premium subscriptions as part of the Olympic push. Instead, the focus on ensuring that consumers check out the free, ad-supported, basic tier of Peacock.

The rights stuff

In addition to the 7,000 hours of content, across a plethora of platforms, NBCU will also flex the fact that it negotiated exclusive rights to the Olympics until 2032, which cuts out rival networks. The deal, which covers all media platforms, including free television, subscription TV, Internet and mobile rights, is valued at $7.65 billion.

What this means is, NBCU has rights across every platform – even those that have not yet been developed yet.

“We have the most complete set of rights of any sport that we have on any of our networks and that any network really has,” says Mark Lazarus, NBCU’s chairman of television and streaming. “Essentially, every technology known today or to be invented between now and 2032. That gives us the ability to try new things and to experiment. That’s what we’ll be doing across the platforms.”

“Our job is to pick the best platform for each piece of content, while trying to take the incredible reach that the Olympics have, the incredible reach that the NBC broadcast network has, and put it on the biggest stage.”

Twitch hit

One new partnership they are particularly excited about is Twitch. The collaboration will feature programming tailored to the Twitch community. This includes highlight studio shows, game-ified pre-Olympic activations, Olympic athlete interviews, and Olympic-themed gaming competitions.

“The way that people consume traditional sporting events is changing,” says Michael Aragon, Chief Content Officer at Twitch. “They no longer want to simply spectate. They want to be as close to the action and athletes as possible. We’ve seen this first-hand with the growth of our sports community on Twitch, as viewers tune in not only to watch their favorite athletes but to also take part in pre- and post-game interviews and virtually connect with other fans from around the world.”

Friends and family

Covid not only saw the Games postponed, 12 months, it has also put a stop to any international travel to Tokyo. This means friends and families of the athletes won’t be able to support in person. Plus, the audiences at big events will be capped at 10,000 people, or 50% capacity, whichever is smaller. This means there is even more pressure on the network to provide a ‘real’ experience for those that can’t be there.

This new challenge led to the creation of a new “Friends and Family” production unit, that will capture the reactions of loved ones back home.

According to Molly Solomon, Executive Producer, NBC Olympics and GOLF, the work and thought put into the Tokyo Games, during the pandemic, means they are going to be the “most meaningful Olympics of our lifetime.”

“After everything the world has gone through, as we begin to emerge from this pandemic, the world coming together is an incredibly impactful experience,” she says.

“We really have put together the most ambitious coverage plan ever. We’ve also adapted to the changing consumption habits. Our goal was to be everything for everyone. It’s our most coverage we’ve ever had.”

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