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NBC to livestream all Beijing Olympics events on Peacock, no longer limiting streams to pay-TV subscribers

After shutting out viewers without cable or satellite TV for many years, NBC has finally brought the wall down. But pay-TV subscribers will still be able to watch everything without paying extra.

A worker building the Olympic Rings atop a tower on the outskirts of Beijing on Wednesday.
A worker building the Olympic Rings atop a tower on the outskirts of Beijing on Wednesday.Read moreNg Han Guan / AP

For the first time ever, viewers don’t need a cable subscription to watch all of the action at an Olympics.

NBC will stream all of the upcoming Winter Games in Beijing on Peacock, the network’s streaming platform that is separate from pay-TV subscriptions. Full replays of all events will be available as soon as they end.

The offering will include every event of every competition, live broadcasts of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, simulcasts of NBC’s marquee prime time show on the broadcast network, medal ceremonies, highlight packages, studio shows, and more coverage beyond that. The same will be true for the Paralympics, which will run from March 4-13.

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Everything will be on Peacock’s premium tier, which costs at $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year — but is free to any Comcast Xfinity cable subscribers with a X1 box. If you’re a subscriber who hasn’t used Peacock before, you just have to sign up for an account online and link it to your cable account. Once you do that, the streams will show up on the Sports tab of your X1 screen. (As will Peacock’s live streams of NBC’s Sunday night NFL games, English Premier League soccer, British Open golf, and other sports events that don’t make it to TV.)

If you’re only an Xfinity internet subscriber, you can also get Peacock Premium (as it’s officially called) for free if you have a Flex streaming box. And if you’re not an Xfinity internet subscriber but buy one of the company’s new XClass TV sets, you get Peacock Premium free too.

Peacock also has its own website and apps for phones, tablets, and connected TV devices such as Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire Stick. And you can pay extra to get everything ad-free: $9.99 per month ($5 on top of the regular plan) or $99.99 per year ($50 on top of the regular plan).

In addition to Comcast’s arrangements, Cox cable subscribers in other parts of the United States have the same free access to Peacock Premium. Spectrum TV, which is big in New York and Los Angeles, is giving its TV subscribers a free year of Peacock Premium through their Spectrum accounts. Spectrum internet subscribers can get a free 90-day deal.

How NBC got here

NBC has been streaming Olympics action online since 2008 through its website and apps, free of charge to subscribers of the network’s cable channels. (Which isn’t really “free,” of course, because one had to be a cable subscriber.) There wasn’t any way for cord-cutters to legally access that coverage unless they borrowed someone else’s account, and NBC eventually developed the technology to track some of that down.

Last summer, NBC broke away from that for the first time by putting coverage of some high-profile events in Tokyo on Peacock: gymnastics and track and field on the free tier, and U.S. men’s basketball games on the paid tier. But there were many complaints from viewers, because events weren’t always easy to access. The network also didn’t do as much promotion as usual of its traditional live-streaming of all events across the Games for authenticated pay-TV subscribers.

» READ MORE: NBC's Tokyo Olympics live streaming on Peacock made history for the network

“I think we learned some valuable lessons in Tokyo,” NBC Sports chair Pete Bevacqua said at an Olympics preview presentation the network hosted in January. “We’re very proud of the fact of all the hours of content that we had. But I would tell you, I’d be the first to admit that we realized we had to make it easier for the viewer to navigate that, to digest the amount of Olympic content.”

Molly Solomon, the president and executive producer of NBC’s Olympics coverage, was equally forthright.

“The upside of getting to do an Olympics a couple of months after another is that you immediately get to really listen to the viewer feedback, and our own critique of ourselves and our presentation,” she said. “We’ve really focused on making the thousands of hours that we produce more intuitive, findable.”

This time, you’ll be able to get everything both ways: with authentication through NBC Sports’ website and apps if you’re a pay-TV subscriber, or with Peacock.

“We wanted to ensure viewers have the ability to watch the Olympics the way that they want to,” Peacock president Kelly Campbell said, a turn of phrase that NBC hasn’t always used.

More details

If you’re looking for live event coverage on Peacock’s free tier, you’ll find barely any. There will be some on the daily studio shows available through the “Channels” tab of Peacock, which is easily accessed through the top bar on the home screen. But everything else will be on the paid tier.

On regular television, there will be just short of 700 hours of coverage spread across NBC’s broadcast network and cable channels USA Network and CNBC.

NBC’s main channel will have around 200 hours of coverage, headlined by the traditional flagship prime time show live in all time zones. The channel will also televise the Opening Ceremony live on Friday, Feb. 4, starting at 6:30 a.m. ET. It’s the second straight Olympics in which NBC is televising the Opening Ceremony live, after not having done so since Vancouver in 2010.

There will be a twist to NBC’s coverage this year because the network has the Super Bowl on Feb. 13. On that day, Olympics coverage will air from 8 a.m. to noon, then resume after the football post-game coverage is over.

USA Network will have around 400 hours of coverage, with around-the-clock broadcasts on many days. Coverage will start on Feb. 2, two days before the Opening Ceremony, with broadcasts of curling, women’s ice hockey, and men’s downhill skiing practice sessions.

CNBC will have around 80 hours of coverage, mostly at night after the network’s daily business coverage ends. Most broadcasts there will be of ice hockey and curling.

The time zone difference between Beijing and Philadelphia is 13 hours.