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5 Reasons the Tokyo Olympics are So Confusing to Watch

Ben Bowman

Are you enjoying the Olympics so far? If you’re like most of us, the standout golden moments have been tainted by spoilers, confusion, and frustration. Why is that? And what can be done about it?

1. The Time Zone

Whenever the Olympics take place overseas, American audiences are stuck trying to watch things incredibly early, incredibly late, or trying to avoid spoilers until they can see the primetime replays. In today’s world, it’s impossible to keep results under wraps unless you completely unplug and avoid your fellow humans. It would be helpful if the NBC networks had a clear visual signifier whether you were watching a live event or a replay. With so many events taking place in the pool, for example, it can be hard to know whether you’re watching a live event or a replay of a Katie Ledecky race you already saw.

It makes sense NBC wouldn’t want to draw attention to the fact that most of its primetime coverage is old, but they could do it subtlely, perhaps with gold background graphics for live events and blue backgrounds for replays.

Short of moving the games to our hemisphere, the next best thing is clear communication about what coverage is live and what is a replay.

2. The Sheer Number of Events

With more than 50 sports and multiple rounds of each, finding the sport you want to watch can be as difficult as finding one specific puzzle piece out of an entire box of them. The Streamable offers you a page for each event:

Navigating the number of Olympic events is a challenge every two years. It’s also hard to know where the drama will emerge. We know that swimming, gymnastics, and track and field events will always bring surprises. But it’s hard to know going into the games which events will be truly competitive.

Finding the right balance between world-class domination, competitive battles, and thrilling underdog stories is virtually impossible. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. But NBC should have a notion of which sports will offer the best bang for the buck. Since all sports are given equal weight across the various platforms, it would be helpful to have a bit more guidance (or at least the option for it).

3. Vague Schedules

NBC’s published schedules are always incredibly broad, suggesting that sports will appear… somewhere… within a 4-hour window. Because of the ebb and flow of each venue, it’s impossible for NBC to know for sure when an event might happen, but the schedule needn’t be this vague.

It’s also unhelpful that Olympic coverage often appears in our channel guides as “Tokyo Olympics,” and not a specific list of what’s coming up. Just try to make heads or tails of this screenshot from the NBC Sports app. How would you know which channel to choose?

4. The Number of Channels and Services

Between Peacock, the NBC Sports app, NBC, USA, CNBC, The Olympic Channel, Telmundo, the Golf Channel, and the NBC Sports Network, it’s virtually impossible to keep track of everything. NBCUniversal could take a page from March Madness and show live look-ins on channels airing simultaneously. Or they could put up a graphic with the next events to air on all their platforms every half hour. The networks all appear to function as if the others don’t exist, which further complicates things.

There’s also the matter of live 4K coverage, which is only available for golf, wrestling, and tennis. For streamers, you’d need a service like fuboTV to take advantage of 4K. Surely, higher resolution is coming in the future, but it’s frustrating for fans who shelled out for a 4K TV not to be able to take advantage today.

NBCUniversal would be wise to sunset the NBC Sports app and have everything live in Peacock. Having two different apps is needlessly complex.

5. No Unified Hub

Going into an event this complex, the viewer really needs one unified hub that holds all the answers and can pivot them to their preferred destination. Again, it would make sense to use Peacock for that purpose, allowing streamers to connect with their TV Everywhere credentials to view all events within the Peacock ecosystem.

Peacock doesn’t have a “live” hub with thumbnails of all the action currently airing. There’s no way to sort replays from live or upcoming coverage. Peacock could feature a live host, updating viewers on the best things that are happening right now, much like NFL RedZone.

But with so much information, so many events, so many channels, two apps, and the need to have replays and live coverage living side-by-side, NBCUniversal is making the Tokyo Olympics a very confusing affair.

There’s probably no way to do the Olympics perfectly, but the March Madness presentation on CBS manages to juggle lots of simultaneous games without losing the viewer. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, since basketball games are much longer than a sprint or an Olympic vault routine, but the current presentation puts far too much responsibility on the viewer.

We want to veg out, watch amazing athletes break barriers, and trust that we’re not missing out on the highlights. For these Olympics, perhaps, that seems to be a bar too high to clear.


Peacock is a subscription video streaming service from NBCUniversal that includes original shows, blockbuster movies, and classic television series. Peacock is home to “Yellowstone,” and “The Office,” as well as original hits like “Poker Face” and “Bel-Air.” You can also watch live sports including Sunday Night Football, Premier League, and exclusive MLB games. Peacock is also the exclusive home to many WWE events like WrestleMania. Premium Plus subscribers can stream their local NBC feed in all 210 markets.

Peacock includes news, entertainment, sports, late-night, and reality from various NBCU properties including NBC, Bravo, and E!.

Peacock also includes the entire library of Bravo shows and has exclusives like “Below Deck: Down Under.” They also include live and on-demand access to Hallmark channels.

The company has acquired the rights to many classic shows like “Parks and Recreation,” and the entire Dick Wolf library including “Law & Order” and “Chicago Fire.”

The service also features blockbusters and critically-acclaimed films from Universal Pictures, Focus Features, DreamWorks Animation, Illumination and content acquired from Hollywood’s biggest studios.


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