For many cord-cutters, attempting to watch the Tokyo Olympics meant downloading a new app.
Without access to broadcast and cable channels showing the COVID-postponed tournament on TV for the past two weeks, the only streaming options were through services like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, both $65 per month; an app and website from NBC Sports, which requires a cable subscription to sign in; and the donations-supported network TV streamer, Locast.
The event also brought a new way to watch Olympians in action: on Peacock, the new streaming service from NBC that offers free, ad-supported viewing along with paid subscriptions. For this Olympics, the Peacock app was the most widely accessible place to stream gymnastics and track and field events, live and for free. Basketball was also available live, but only on the paid $5 per month tier.
With limited, affordable options, the Peacock app, which launched in April 2020, had a late July download boost. Data from app analytics firm Apptopia showed how App Store and Google Play downloads from the first part of July were as low as 94,921 a day. But by July 27 (when gymnastics was well underway), the app was downloaded 210,689 times in a day.
A paid option like the YouTube TV app wasn’t grabbed nearly as much, even during the popular gymnastics events. Apptopia reported 25,617 YouTube downloads on July 27, up only slightly from where it was before the games (on July 16, YouTube TV had 20,987 downloads).
If you didn’t want to pay and lacked a cable login, Peacock was the only option to see Team USA race and take to the balance beam. It also offered replays and highlights of the long list of events (table tennis, canoeing, or archery, anyone?) beyond the traditionally popular ones.
But just because NBC increased engagement with its new Peacock platform, that doesn’t mean its Olympics showcase was a successful viewing experience. The fragmented options scattered across different apps, websites, and channels, not to mention the massive time difference between Japan and the U.S. complicating live broadcasts, meant the Olympics lost its unifying feel as confusion reigned among viewers.
As Washington Post editor Dan Steinberg wrote in his daily Tokyo Olympics newsletter Saturday, “The Olympics used to be one of the fleetingly rare events that we all watched together. But between the tape delays and the streaming options, the Peacock-only events and the impossible-to-follow listings, this time it felt like a mostly personal experience.”
In response to a newsletter question about why these games have been underwhelming, readers offered, “The coverage is difficult to follow with streaming, and we know everything before we get to see it. Also a problem with Rio but it seems worse and more fragmented this year.” Another lamented that it was hard to find full event coverage, while another missed the days when only one channel showed the games.
Many took to Twitter to gripe about yet another app filled with ads that was aggressively trying to sign up paid subscribers. It didn’t help that the app doesn’t make it easy to navigate or find content. A Verge reporter described searching for Olympics broadcasts on Peacock as “a chore, comparable to flicking through a cable TV guide.”
Instead of forcing the Olympics into an existing streaming platform, cord-cutters deserve something better — whether that’s an improved Olympics portal within Peacock or a dedicated Olympics-only app for the next games.