NBCUniversal Hopes New Plans Push Fans to Tokyo Olympics

Brian Steinberg
·4-min read

Before NBCUniversal broadcasts a single Olympic event, it must compete in an event that might be seen as Olympian: convincing millions to tune in to the Games when they air this summer.

Starting Wednesday, NBCUniversal will promote the 2021 Tokyo Olympics in earnest, with a “roadblock” of promos set to air at about the same time across the NBC broadcast network and six of its entertainment cable outlets, as well as its news networks and social and digital channels, says Jenny Storms, chief marketing officer of entertainment and sports. It marks the first time Storms, who previously supervised the marketing of NBC Sports properties, has also had oversight of NBCUniversal’s entertainment outlets for an Olympics promotional program.

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The Games are likely to look different than in years past, thanks to the coronavirus. Veteran sportscaster Mike Tirico will anchor NBC’s primetime coverage from an outdoor perch — a fifth-floor deck. It’s the first time the host of NBC’s primetime Olympics coverage will anchor from outdoors.

But Storms says recent consumer research indicates that fans are more eager to seize upon what the Olympics is known best for — a global event that brings in big audiences, many of them all watching at once. “You want community. You want connection,” she says, citing research that was conducted in December. “We all want to escape and be entertained.” All told, NBCU is expected to broadcast and stream around 7,000 hours of Olympics coverage.

NBCU has good reason to tout the Games. The media conglomerate and its parent, Comcast, paid $4.4 billion for the rights to cover the Olympics in the U.S. through 2020, and already agreed to pay $7.75 billion for broadcast rights to the Olympic Games between 2021 and 2032. With the 2020 Olympics pushed back a year, NBCU is hoping to regain the more than $1.2 billion in ad commitments it secured for the Tokyo Games — and to prod viewers and advertisers to look forward to a Winter Games that will take place just half a year after its Summer counterpart.

There is hope the Tokyo Games will be able to capture attention around the clock, owing to time-zone considerations. The Japan site means NBC can broadcast live events both in primetime and at different times during the day. Its presentation of the Games’ opening ceremonies will offer a hint of that: On Friday, July 23, NBC will offer a first — a live morning broadcast of the opening spectacle, starting at 6:55 a.m., followed by a special broadcast of “Today” and a daytime Olympic program. There will also be a traditional primetime broadcast.

NBCU will tell various Olympic stories before athletes take part in new ones. There will be coverage during NBC’s “Today” and interviews with Olympic athletes on programs ranging from “NBC Nightly News: Kids Edition” to “Watch What Happens Live,” Kelly Clarkson’s syndicated daytime program and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” The stars of NBC drama “This Is Us” have taken part in video vignettes slated to air during that program that introduce viewers to some Olympics hopefuls. In one, Mandy Moore discusses runner Allyson Felix and how her daughter inspires her to compete.

NBCU will also make a concerted effort to get Olympics promotions in front of people as they start venturing outside while the nation emerges from the pandemic, says Storms. Visitors to NBCU’s Universal Orlando theme park will see information about the coming Games and the company has mounted a traveling exhibit of the signature Olympic rings.

And the company will seize on other platforms in the weeks ahead, including several nights of Olympics trials slated for primetime broadcast on NBC as well as programing set to launch around the July 4 holiday.

Coronavirus precautions are bound to change the scope and shape of the 2020 Games, but Storms says her research shows potential viewers remain interested in Olympics spectacle and athletes more than they are in new rules of competition. “This is where the world is going to come back together again,” she says, noting viewers are likely to flock to an event that offers community, rather than lean in to learn more about health protocols.

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