Figuring out how to watch the Olympics should have been a breeze. NBCUniversal—which holds the universal broadcast rights for the Summer and Winter Games through 2032—showed up locked and loaded with its brand new streaming platform, Peacock, which it had touted on its website as “the place to flock for the Games’ top moments.” On the app’s “Tokyo NOW” channel, the network had promised four live shows per day that would span competition coverage, highlights, interviews, and “the best stories of the Games.”
The network seemed poised to deliver more accessible on-demand coverage in Tokyo than it ever had before. But, as anyone who relied on streaming to watch the Olympics will tell you, things panned out a little differently, with technical limitations and programming snafus snarling the coverage. If you don’t believe me, just search “how do I watch the Olympics” on Twitter, which will return thousands of angry tweets from people desperate to just figure out how they can stream the freaking gymnastics already.
For cord-cutters, the problem was particularly pernicious: If you wanted to watch the opening ceremony, for example, you were out of luck, because Peacock didn’t carry it live at all. Basketball fans were also left in the lurch, since the entire sport was paywalled in an apparent bid to woo viewers into one of Peacock’s paid tiers. If you wanted to watch the 4K Olympics coverage NBC had long promised it would be streaming, that was also too bad for you, since 4K isn’t currently supported by Peacock.
Phew, sure seems like a lot of issues for one platform to have surrounding its biggest broadcast moment of at least the next two years. But you know which platform didn’t deliver crushing disappointment after crushing disappointment with its Olympics coverage? TikTok, which proved itself to be a delightful, intuitive, and personal way to experience the moments of the Olympics that mainstream coverage missed.
As the Washington Post points out, NBC neglected to air the unsteady vault performance Simone Biles turned in before abruptly deciding to withdraw from the Tokyo Olympics women’s gymnastics team final for mental health reasons. But video of Biles’ vaults quickly went viral on TikTok, providing vital context and human connection that was likely missed by anyone relying on a mainstream broadcast for answers. TikTok also made headlines for providing other intimate moments, including behind-the-scenes, personality-driven videos shot by the athletes themselves. Where was Peacock when British swimmer Adam Peaty whipped out his Olympic gold medal? Where was Peacock when athletes were weight-testing those cardboard beds in the Olympic Village?
G/O Media may get a commission
“In this day and age, the average Olympic viewer is not loyal to a TV network or station, but they are loyal to people,” Ali Fazal, vice president of marketing at influencer marketing company Grin, told the Post. “Now, there are a lot more ways to engage rather than hoping your right customer is tuning into NBC at the exact right time.”
Look, TikTok will (probably) never be able to provide the same wall-to-wall Olympics coverage that larger, better-supported networks are able to provide. But what the platform lacks in size and resources it makes up for in heart, ease-of-use, and videos of the Olympic team from New Zealand measuring their biceps. And for those reasons, I am advocating that the International Olympic Committee award TikTok a sizable contract to become the go-to streaming destination for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. Broadcast rights-holders may have paid the IOC billions, but everyone involved owes TikTok a debt for making this year’s games watchable.