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Tokyo 2020: Why can’t the BBC show all Olympics sports live?

This year’s summer Games are receiving record-low ratings and many viewer complaints

Nathan Place
New York
Thursday 29 July 2021 00:43
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Few spectators were present to watch the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony

This year’s Olympics are receiving record-low ratings as some viewers have complained that NBC has made them too hard to watch and that the BBC has not provided enough coverage.

On Twitter, complaints abound that Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, has blocked some sports behind a paywall, or showed certain events a whole day after they happened.

“NBC and Peacock suck for making #USA #Basketball a Premium Peacock option,” one user griped. “Olympic coverage kinda sucks if you don’t have cable,” another wrote. “You either have to wait to watch it the next day on Peacock or pay for the NBC sports app.”

Others struggled with simple TV reception problems.

The BBC, meanwhile, has produced scaled-down coverage of the Games due to a near £1billion deal between Olympic chiefs and American channel Discovery.

The deal means the BBC can only air two sports live at the same time.

On TV, this year’s Olympics can be seen on the BBC in the UK and on NBC and its affiliate stations in the US. Online, US viewers can watch the games through a number of streaming services, including Hulu, fuboTV, and NBC’s Peacock – all of which offer a free one-week trial. There’s also SlingTV, which offers a month of streaming for $10.

If the broadcast’s ratings are any indication, there does seem to be a problem. According to data from NBC, only 16.7 million Americans watched the Olympics’ opening ceremony on TV – its smallest audience in 33 years.

Even with all NBC’s streaming apps and stations included, only 17 million people watched the event, NBCUniversal told the New York Post.

That’s the lowest viewership since 1988, when only 22.7 million people watched the Olympics in Seoul.

The Olympics’ ratings have consistently declined in recent years, possibly due to viewers’ shifting preferences from television to online content. From the 2012 games in London to the 2016 games in Rio, the number of people who watched the opening ceremony dropped from 40.7 million to 26.5 million.

Some of the viewers not tuning in this year, however, seem to have genuinely wanted to watch, but found it impossible.

The Independent has reached out to NBC for comment.

“Congrats to NBC for making it so incredibly complicated to watch the Olympics that I’m giving up,” one frustrated fan tweeted. “Maybe take the next four years to figure out a way to not suck.”

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