By Sheila Dang and Helen Coster
January 20, 2022
Workers wear protective suits to protect from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as they stand outside the Main Press Centre of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics ahead of the event in Beijing, China January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Jan 19 (Reuters) - Comcast's Corp's NBCUniversal, under pressure from human rights groups, on Wednesday said that its broadcast coverage of the 2022 Beijing Olympics will include the "geopolitical context" of China as the host nation.
The coverage plans, detailed in a video presentation to reporters, followed the urgings of human rights groups and a U.S. congressional committee to cover China's rights violations during the Olympics, which begin on Feb. 4.
In 2014 NBCUniversal paid $7.65 billion to extend its U.S. broadcasting rights for the Olympics through 2032.
The Beijing Games have been marred in controversy over the past year, and the United States and other governments have announced a diplomatic boycott of the event for what it says are rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang region. China denies wrongdoing in Xinjiang and says camps for Uyghurs provide vocational training and curb religious extremism.
Human rights and press freedom groups have also voiced concerns about the ability for journalists and NBC to freely report during the Olympics, citing China's crackdown on press freedom.
The NBC News division, which has a Beijing bureau, will cover the news in China, while the NBC Olympics division "will cover the issues that impact the Games as needed," Molly Solomon, executive producer and president of NBC Olympics Production, said during the video presentation.
"We are going to be focusing on telling the stories of Team USA and covering the competition," Solomon said. “We understand that there are some difficult issues regarding the host nation, so our coverage will provide perspective on China's place in the world and the geopolitical context in which these Games are being held. But the athletes do remain the centerpiece of our coverage."
Solomon added that NBC has a record of "not shying away from these topics" at previous Olympic Games.
She said NBCU will have reporters at all Olympic venues. "If something happens, we’ll have our own cameras on site.”
Corporations worldwide have struggled with the difficult task of balancing corporate and social responsibility, while not angering the government of one of the largest markets in the world.
Last month, China accused Walmart of “stupidity and short-sightedness” after the retailer appeared to stop stocking products from Xinjiang.
The Beijing Games, the second Olympics NBC will broadcast in the coronavirus pandemic, present an opportunity for the company to refine its strategy based on what it learned last summer. Its broadcast of the Tokyo Games, which were delayed for a year because of the pandemic, drew the smallest audience for the Summer Games since NBC began broadcasting them in 1988. Yet the competitions still pulled in the biggest audiences on television when they aired, making them attractive showcases for advertisers.
For Beijing, NBC said it is doing more to simplify the viewing experience, addressing criticism that last summer’s content was difficult to find across the company’s many platforms, including its Peacock streaming service.
NBCUniversal aired the Tokyo Games across two broadcast networks, six cable networks, and multiple digital sites. But that scope led to confusion: While all of Peacock’s Olympics programming was available to stream for free – with some events available live – viewers needed to pay for the $4.99 premium tier to watch men’s basketball live, a strategy designed to boost subscriptions to the service.
NBC will stream every Beijing event live on Peacock’s premium tier, in addition to airing coverage across the NBC broadcast network, USA Network and CNBC cable networks, NBCOlympics.com website and NBC Sports app. It will also offer a customizable schedule on NBCOlympics.com, and air on-screen cues during studio segments that remind viewers what’s coming up, Solomon said.
The company has nearly 100 advertisers for the Games, with advertising inventory virtually sold out and an average spending that is "slightly above" the 2018 Winter Games, said Dan Lovinger, NBCU’s president of ad sales and partnership.