What to know about NBC's coverage of the Tokyo Olympics

Scooby Axson

The Games of the XXXII Olympiad, or more commonly known as the Tokyo Olympics, formally begin  Friday with the opening ceremonies. They are being billed as the “biggest and most impactful media event ever.”

NBC and its broadcast partners are banking that although the Games were postponed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the world will be watching when the cauldron is lit. NBC paid $7.75 billion to the International Olympic Committee for the broadcast rights in a deal that will run through the 2032 Olympics.

The deal covers six Olympics, from 2021 to 2032, and gives NBC rights to all media platforms including TV, internet and mobile. Both NBC and the IOC are expecting the Tokyo Games to pay off big.

“We are going to deliver the most comprehensive – and accessible – coverage for any sports event in history,” executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production Molly Solomon said last month at a press event.

NEVER MISS A MEDAL: Sign up for our Olympic newsletter now

TEXT WITH US AT TOKYO OLYMPICS: Subscribe to texts, where we’ll be your official guide to the Games

The Tokyo Olympics formally begin Friday with the opening ceremonies.

To prepare viewers for the games, here are some of the most frequently asked questions.

How much will NBC show live?

The opening and closing ceremonies will be broadcast live on NBC, and the network itself will include 250 hours of coverage. It is the first live morning broadcast of an opening ceremony, according to NBC.  For those who want to continue to get their news fix, “TODAY” and “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt” also will be broadcast live from Tokyo.

What is Peacock, and why does it matter for the Olympics?

As the streaming wars have heated up in the past decade, NBC decided to throw its media might into Peacock, launching the video streaming service in July 2020. It has 42 million subscribers, with on-demand libraries of television shows, movies and original programming.

Live gymnastics, track and field action and all of Peacock’s Tokyo Olympics programming will be available for broadcast on the free tier of Peacock. But if you want to watch live games played by the U.S. men’s basketball team, you will have to fork over $4.99 a month for Peacock Premium. The live events on Peacock also are available to those pay-TV subscribers with streaming options on a variety of devices.  

Peacock also will have daily live shows, along with event replays and curated highlights.

How else can I access Peacock?

Peacock is available on Roku, Apple devices, Google platforms and devices, Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices, Microsoft’s Xbox One, Xbox One S and Xbox One X; Sony PlayStation4 and PlayStation 4 Pro; Samsung Smart TVs; VIZIO SmartCast TVs; and LG Smart TVs.

Comcast’s eligible Xfinity X1 and Flex customers, and eligible Cox Contour customers, can watch Peacock Premium included with their service at no additional cost.  

What other networks will be used?

Five cable networks: USA Network, CNBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel and the Golf Channel will help broadcast the Games. Telemundo and Universo will have extensive coverage for Spanish-language viewers.

Here's where you can find some of the other sports, according to NBC:

  • USA Network coverage includes coverage of swimming, track and field, diving, beach volleyball, volleyball, cycling, triathlon, basketball, soccer and water polo.
  • CNBC will air diving, beach volleyball, skateboarding, rowing, canoeing, archery, water polo and rugby.
  • NBCSN will offer soccer, softball, beach volleyball, table tennis, handball, badminton, fencing and equestrian.

How many hours does NBC plan to broadcast?

NBC says it will have 7,000 hours of Olympic programming for the 17 days of the Games. In Tokyo there are 339 events in 33 sports, with 50 disciplines. More than 5,500 hours will stream on NBColympics.com. Included in NBC’s coverage are prime-time broadcasts of men’s and women’s gold medal basketball finals on Aug. 6 and Aug. 7.

How will I know what channels are showing the sport I want to watch?

What the linear channel NBC and the other broadcasting channels will show can be found here. NBC Sports Digital will have a “Team USA Tracker” stream for some gymnastics sessions and USA Network is dedicating 24 hours a day to Olympics events. The concept is billed as you can pick and choose the events you want to watch.

In preparing to watch events, what is the time zone difference?

Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone.

What are the first events of the Olympics?

Starting today, NBCSN will broadcast six hours of live softball coverage as the sport makes its return to the Olympics for the first time since Beijing. The U.S. women's softball team opens its tournament against Italy at 11 p.m. ET.

The U.S. women’s soccer team will look for revenge when it takes on Sweden, the team that knocked the Americans out of the 2016 Olympics. Game time is set for 4:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday and can be seen on USA Network.

Which broadcasters will be reporting on the Games from Tokyo?

NBC says a record 178 Olympic commentators will bring viewers the Games. Because of the scope of the events and the ongoing pandemic, some on-air talent will be in Tokyo and others will be at NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Connecticut.

Mike Tirico is NBC Olympics’ prime-time host. Rebecca Lowe will  be host of NBC’s daytime coverage, with Ahmed Fareed, Liam McHugh and Kathryn Tappen handling duties on USA Network.

The elephant in the room: COVID-19

NBC officials say they won’t dictate to the International Olympic Committee how the Games should be conducted or whether events can be moved if staff, broadcasters or athletes come down with the coronavirus.

Another concern is the fact that fewer than 10% of Japan’s citizens are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and Tokyo's state of emergency amid a rise in coronavirus cases led officials to bar fans from venues holding events. But NBC officials insist that they have a strong health and safety plan in place and will abide by all IOC protocols.

“If there's issues, if there's athletes testing out, of course we're going to cover the news,” Solomon said. “Our primary objective is to cover the sports that are happening, but how COVID impacts the Olympics, obviously, is part of the storyline.”