Olympics Deferral Plucks Feathers From NBCUniversal’s Peacock

Cheyne Gateley/Variety Intelligence Platform

Peacock, NBCUniversal’s new video streaming service, now has one fewer of its crown jewels to drive it into homes across the U.S. this summer when it’s rolling out nationwide.

That became clear yesterday when International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe announced that the Tokyo Olympic Games (originally scheduled to open July 24) will be postponed beyond 2020 but no later than the summer of 2021, in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus. 

The postponement means NBCU won’t have the Olympics to help it market its Peacock service this summer, and this is a big blow for a new service that would have benefitted from reaching an audience as big as the Olympics’. In January 2020, Comcast described the Tokyo Olympics as a “massive promotional opportunity.”

Peacock’s Tokyo Olympics coverage, which included live coverage of the Opening and Closing ceremonies and three daily shows covering the Tokyo Games, was expected to be a key draw. Consumers indicated that 2020 Olympics coverage was the second-most appealing content offering of Peacock in a January 2020 poll conducted by YouGov in partnership with Variety Intelligence Platform

40% of survey respondents said they were interested in Peacock’s Olympics coverage, while other signature offerings like Peacock originals (34%) and live Premier League games (16%) proved to be less appealing. 

Only Peacock’s classic NBC TV shows (like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation”) ranked as a more popular Peacock feature than 2020 Olympics coverage, with 45% of respondents selecting it as something they were interested in. 

But “The Office” won’t be streaming exclusively on Peacock until 2021, after it leaves its current streaming home Netflix at the end of 2020. “Parks and Recreation,” on the other hand, is currently on several streamers including Netflix and won’t be on Peacock until October of this year. 

This all implies that when Peacock rolls out in its two phases (it will first be available to Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex customers on April 15, and then roll out to all U.S. consumers on July 15), it won’t have the two content offerings that make it appeal most to certain consumers. 

And with other prominent video streaming entrants are either already available (like Disney Plus) or waiting in the wings and will roll out around the same time frame as Peacock (HBO Max in May), NBCU is vulnerable to having certain would-be Peacock viewers preferring more complete offerings from SVOD rivals. HBO Max is launching with “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory” in May 2020, for example. 

Missing out on some would-be video streaming users will be particularly painful for NBCU as no Olympics this summer weakens NBCU’s advertising revenue streams for the year. 

NBCU in early March announced it had done over $1.2 billion in Olympics ad sales, which surpassed sales for the 2016 Rio Games and is a record for any broadcaster of the Olympics. These deals won’t vanish en masse, but NBCU will likely have to renegotiate them with brands.

What Comcast and NBCU can hope for is that the consumers who do take to Peacock in April and July, despite there being no Tokyo Olympics this year, speak loudly enough about the service’s other offerings (positively) to attract some consumers who didn’t even know about the service in the first place.