NBC Plans Break in Olympics Tradition With A.M. Broadcast of Opening Ceremonies

PyeongChang Winter Olympics
The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images

The Opening Ceremonies of the Summer Olympics have long been something reserved for primetime TV — a glitzy event that draws big crowds with spectacle and flash. For the 2021 version, however, NBC plans to make them available before most viewers have had their first cup of coffee for the day.

NBC plans to pre-empt an entire day of programming on the opening day of the next Summer Olympics, offering a telecast of the early ceremonies as they happen live on July 23, between 6:55 a.m. eastern and 11 a.m. eastern. They will be followed by a mid-afternoon broadcast of NBC News’ “Today,” three hours of afternoon coverage and a re-broadcast of the opening event in the evening. The break with tradition comes after the Summer Games have been delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and as NBC’s parent company, Comcast, hopes to make good on a massive $7.75 billion investment on rights for the Olympics in the U.S. between 2021 and 2032.

“Given the magnitude of this event, we want to provide viewers with as many ways to connect to it as possible, live or in primetime,” said Pete Bevacqua, chairman, NBC Sports Group, in a prepared statement. NBC has never broadcast the Opening Ceremonies live in the morning.

To differentiate its traditional broadcast of the opening extravaganza, NBC Sports will include special coverage of Team USA. NBC will replay its primetime telecast overnight.

NBCUniversal over the years has made more Olympics content available via digital means and has worked to transmit the Games live, even when their home base has been in countries where the events take place in inconvenient times for U.S. viewers. But the new plan suggests that, in a world where consumers expect more and more content to be made available at times of their own choosing, primetime is whenever an individual consumer wants it.

With the 2020 event scuttled, NBCUniversal faces new pressure to re-capture what had been estimated to be more than $1.2 billion in advertising committed to the showcase. The company had sold ad packages ranging in price from $1 million to $100 million or more, depending on the amount of inventory involved and the scope of each advertiser’s goals. In the aftermath of the 2020 cancellation, some sponsors had to walk away from their deals, while others put a down payment on 2021 appearances.

And the 2021 Games will be just one of three different sports pageants NBCU hopes to monetize in months to come. The company is slated to broadcast a Winter Olympics in 2022, along with Super Bowl LVI.

To start new conversations with Madison Avenue, NBCU has introduced a new service it hopes will entice sponsors to invest. The company has studied 671 different commercials that ran during its Olympics broadcasts from Rio and PyeongChang, along with 897 different thematic elements, and built models of how the commercials performed based on various marketing goals, such as  generating awareness, brand perception and search impact. NBCU is offering to review creative elements of Olympics creative with sponsors to help them understand where consumer reception is likely to stand.