By Helen Coster and Sheila Dang
(Reuters) -NBCUniversal will air some of the most anticipated Tokyo Olympics events, including gymnastics and U.S. Men's basketball, on its streaming platform Peacock, the company said Wednesday, in an effort to draw more viewers to the service.
The Comcast Corp-owned media company said it has signed over 120 advertisers for the Games, more than any other Olympics broadcast in history.
An NBCUniversal spokesperson said the company is on track to exceed the $1.2 billion in ads sold for the 2016 Rio Olympics, but declined to say whether it will beat the $1.25 billion sold last year before the Tokyo Olympics were postponed.
The Olympics, which this summer will have limited spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are an opportunity for NBCUniversal to attract advertiser dollars and promote Peacock at a time when viewers are watching less live TV. NBCUniversal paid $7.65 billion to extend its U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032.
The Games continue to face backlash as a majority of the Japanese public oppose holding the Olympics while the country struggles with COVID-19 infections. Just 8.2% of Japanese citizens have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to a Reuters tracker.
Jeff Shell, chief executive of NBCUniversal, said he believes American viewers are eager for sports and positive stories following a pandemic year.
"The whole world is coming off of global trauma, and the Olympics is when everybody forgets all that and comes together to celebrate what we just saw up on the screen," he said during a news conference on Wednesday.
The worldwide sports event is also critical for NBCUniversal to garner attention to Peacock, which was a late entrant into the streaming wars and competes with deep-pocketed players like Netflix and Walt Disney Co's Disney+.
More than 80 brands which will advertise during the Tokyo Olympics are new and were not involved in previous summer games, the company said.
Live coverage of some of the most popular sports like track and field and events featuring superstars such as U.S. gymnast Simone Biles will be available for free on Peacock, the company said, though U.S. Men's basketball will require a premium subscription.
Comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Snoop Dogg will headline a new commentary series on Peacock to recap highlights of the Games.
Peacock, which launched across the United States last July, offers a free, ad-supported version and two paid options: a $4.99-per-month service with commercials and 20,000 hours of programming; and an ad-free version costing $9.99 per month.
The Olympics will take place from July 23 to Aug. 8.
(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York and Sheila Dang in DallasEditing by Marguerita Choy and Jonathan Oatis)