Posted July 16, 2021 • Last updated July 26, 2021

Where can I watch the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (in 2021) in Canada?

Find out how to watch the rescheduled 2021 edition of the Summer Olympic Games on TV or streaming in Canada.

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The Games of the XXXII Olympiad ("XXXII" being the Roman numeral for "32nd"), better known as the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the 2020 Summer Olympics, or Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (as organizers have been trying to brand it), are scheduled to be held from July 23 to August 8, 2021 (with some preliminary events starting on July 21, or technically the evening of July 20 for Canadian viewers), in and around Tokyo, Japan.

The games were postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, though for marketing purposes the event is maintaining the "Tokyo 2020" branding, presumably to avoid extra effort and waste associated with reprinting with the (to be clear, incorrect) "Tokyo 2021" name instead.

In Canada, broadcast rights to the games are held by CBC/Radio-Canada, the national public broadcaster, under a contract with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced in late 2014 (the CBC has since extended its rights through 2024).

Main English-language coverage will be available on CBC Television and streaming for free on CBC Gem and the CBC Olympics website and mobile app. We expect that the CBC Gem / CBC Olympics apps will also host additional event feeds. A version of the CBC's coverage will also be available through other venues like Amazon Prime Video.

The CBC will also be producing coverage of select events which will be available on private-sector partner networks TSN and Sportsnet and their respective streaming apps. These networks (CBC, Sportsnet / Sportsnet One, and multiple TSN channels) will offer up to five simultaneous feeds of coverage while events are in progress each day.

In general CBC provides coverage of the events and moments that they believe are of greatest interest to Canadians – occasionally whiparound-style – while TSN and Sportsnet focus on start-to-finish coverage of specific events like full soccer or basketball games not involving Canada, or a full session of something like a track or swim meet.

However, our expectation is that all events on TSN / Sportsnet will also be available, as individual streams, for free on the CBC Gem and CBC Olympics apps. (As a result, there may be some minor differences in the coverage between the streaming feeds and the hosted TSN/SN broadcasts.)

French-language coverage will air on the CBC's French TV network Ici Radio-Canada Télé, and TSN sister channel RDS. Coverage in Italian and Spanish will air on Telelatino (TLN) as well as co-owned Univision Canada, under sublicence from the CBC.

Coverage on the NBC broadcast network, which is part of the group that holds United States broadcast rights to the Olympics, will also be available on cable and satellite TV in Canada, but coverage on other NBCUniversal networks and its websites and apps will not.

We answer a few more detailed questions below. We'll update this post as warranted, if and when more information becomes available.


When are the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and where can I watch them?

  • The Opening Ceremony took place on Friday, July 23, 2021. The ceremony should be available to stream through this link (the only version currently available on the CBC's website is one that includes American Sign Language interpretation) until August 5. It is also available on Prime Video, and may be available on demand via some TV providers (see a couple of sections down). Note that, like some other broadcasters, the CBC skipped some notable segments of the ceremony in order to fit in advertising.
     
    The ceremony aired live starting at 7:00 a.m. Eastern (4:00 a.m. Pacific, 8:30 a.m. Newfoundland Time, 8:00 p.m. local time in Tokyo) on July 23. CBC had coverage beginning at 6:30 a.m. ET, simulcast on TSN, Sportsnet, and CBC News Network, with additional feeds in multiple indigenous languages and sign languages available online. NBC also aired the ceremony live beginning at 6:55 a.m. ET. Coverage on all of these networks ran until shortly after 11:00 a.m. ET.
     
    Both CBC and NBC re-aired the ceremony in primetime, CBC starting at 7:00 p.m. ET / 4:00 p.m. PT and NBC at 7:30 p.m. ET / 4:30 p.m. PT.
     
  • The Closing Ceremony will take place on Sunday, August 8, 2021, again starting at 7:00 a.m. ET (4:00 a.m. PT, 8:30 a.m. NT, 8:00 p.m. local time in Tokyo). It should air live on at least CBC, and air in primetime on both CBC and NBC.

How do I access the TV channels carrying Olympics coverage in Canada?

  • CBC Television is available over-the-air as an digital broadcast signal (i.e., by antenna) in some Canadian cities, and as a required channel for all Canadian cable, satellite, and fibre-based TV service providers, even on the cheapest "skinny basic" packages.

    The network is also available to stream for free through the CBC Gem website and apps available on most mobile and streaming devices – you do not have to subscribe to the ad-free "Premium" tier to access the main network feeds, and it doesn't currently appear it will provide any other benefits for Olympics access, except maybe the ability to skip ads before on-demand videos. On Roku devices, only a pared-back app is available, providing live streams of the CBC's local stations, but not Gem's other on-demand programming (possibly due to Roku's insistence on ad revenue sharing, which has caused disputes with other content providers).

    The schedule for CBC Television broadcasts is available here (which mainly covers the main programming blocks like "Olympic Games Primetime"). A separate streaming schedule is available, listing when dedicated event streams will be offered.
     
  • Ici Radio-Canada Télé, which is the French-language equivalent of CBC Television, is similarly available over-the-air in some cities, on all TV service providers, on the Ici Tou.TV website and apps on most mobile and smart devices, and on the Ici Télé app on Roku.
     
  • TSN, Sportsnet, and RDS are all subscription-based specialty sports services, all with multiple channels. They are available through virtually all (if not all) Canadian TV service providers, and in some cases may be part of entry-level packages, but never as part of the newer "skinny basic" packages mentioned above. If you have a cable or satellite provider and are not familiar with these channels, you'll have to check with them to verify if or where you can find them. Note that some coverage may only air on specific channels that some providers have charged extra to access, so bear that in mind if you have a package that excludes TSN2 or Sportsnet One.
     
    If you do not have a traditional TV service, you can also subscribe to the over-the-top streaming versions of these channels: TSN Direct, Sportsnet Now, and RDS Direct. However, if you don't have these channels already, you may want to wait, as the events will be most likely also available to stream on CBC Gem.
     
  • TLN and Univision Canada (Italian and Spanish coverage) are also subscription-based specialty channels. If you have a cable-style TV package and don't know where these channels are, you'll need to check with your service provider. Depending on the city you live in, they may or may not be easily available on your TV service – for example, TLN is included in the legacy "full cable" / VIP packages on Rogers in southern Ontario (cable 35 in Toronto), but not necessarily elsewhere or for all newer subscribers. Neither channel is available on an individual over-the-top basis.

Where can I watch Olympics events on demand?

On-demand coverage of the 2021 edition of the Olympics will be available in Canada through:

Can Canadians watch the American coverage of the Olympics on NBC?

Yes, on the NBC broadcast network only.

NBCUniversal, the media division of American cable company Comcast, controls the broadcast rights to the Olympic Games in the United States and its territories (such as Puerto Rico) until 2032. Coverage airs on its NBC broadcast network – which is widely available on most Canadian TV service providers – as well as several of its cable channels, including some that are normally available in Canada like Golf Channel and CNBC.

Coverage on the NBC broadcast network is not subject to blackout in Canada, and is unlikely to be subject to simultaneous substitution. In other words, Canadians should be able to watch NBC broadcast network coverage as-is. Because the NBC network affiliates available in Canada all broadcast, in unencrypted (unscrambled) form, over publicly-accessible airwaves, and because those signals – at least those from markets like Buffalo, Detroit, and Seattle – cannot be stopped or blocked at international borders, Canadian TV service providers are allowed to import these signals as-is, without regard to any differences in programming rights in Canada.

The only exception to the rule about imported over-the-air signals is simultaneous substitution (simsub), a practice required by Canada's broadcasting regulator, the CRTC, which requires cable, satellite and fibre-based TV providers to replace a U.S. signal with a Canadian broadcast station if both are carrying the exact same program (i.e., only the commercials are different). However, simsub does not apply if the American and Canadian networks are covering the same event in different ways – whether it's different parts of the event, different camera angles, or just different commentators.

Thus, barring the highly unlikely event that the CBC chooses to directly simulcast the NBC coverage including announcers – the CBC has never done it before, although CTV did it to a limited extent when it last had Olympic rights in 2012 – there should not be any simsubs affecting Canadians' ability to watch the American coverage on the NBC broadcast network.

How about coverage on CNBC, Golf Channel, and NBC's websites?

The situation is different for NBCUniversal's other TV channels, and for its streaming platforms. In short, Canadians will not be able to access long-form 2020 Olympics coverage through these venues. (Golf Channel was able to re-air the final rounds from the 2016 golf events on July 20 and 21, and you may see occasional Olympics clips on other shows aired on these channels, but that's about it.)

CNBC and Golf Channel are both "specialty" channels that do not broadcast over the public airwaves, but instead require payments to NBCUniversal (typically paid indirectly through a cable provider) to access. As such, NBCU must provide the channels in a form that excludes programming that it does not hold rights to in Canada – such as Olympic Games coverage. (MSNBC, which is also available in Canada, has been involved in coverage in the past, but is not listed among the channels involved in U.S. coverage for the Tokyo games.)

This is typically contractually required by copyright owners of the programs in question, such as – in the case of the Olympics – the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in order not to infringe on the exclusive rights that these owners have sold to other rightsholders around the world.

In regards to TV channels, this is also enforced by CRTC policy (emphasis ours):

Authorization for the services and stations on this [permitted foreign channels] list is subject to the following:

Providers of the non-Canadian pay and/or specialty services must have obtained and must remain in possession of all necessary rights for the distribution of their programming in Canada.

Thus, as NBCUniversal does not own broadcast rights to the Olympics in Canada, while it does not need to (and cannot) interfere with reception of its coverage by Canadians via the over-the-air NBC broadcast network, it cannot allow that coverage to be available in Canada through its U.S.-based specialty channels.

Indeed, this is true not only for the Olympics but for other sports coverage (like NHL games) that have been occasionally carried on CNBC or Golf Channel that NBCU only holds American rights for, and other programs like repeats of Shark Tank that CNBC has only purchased U.S. rights for (as Bell Media owns the Canadian broadcast rights to that show).

For similar reasons – though in this case, solely due to the terms of its contracts with the IOC – NBCU is not permitted to stream coverage of the Olympics outside of the United States and its territories. Historically this streaming coverage was available on NBCOlympics.com; going forward it looks like much of NBC's bonus streaming content will be on Peacock, but that service is not available in Canada anyways.

If you are in Canada and tune into CNBC during its Olympic coverage hours, you will likely see European and Asian stock market coverage from CNBC World instead.

If you try watching Golf Channel in Canada when the Olympic golf events are underway, it looks like you will see repeats of programs like Feherty instead. Current schedules indicate that the men's golf tournament (July 29 to August 1 in Japan, the evenings of July 28-31 in Canada) will air in Canada on Sportsnet One or TSN2 depending on the day, as well as on the CBC Gem/Olympics apps. These broadcasts will most likely use world feed announcers as the Canadian Olympic golf broadcasts did in 2016. The broadcast schedule for the women's event the following week is not yet clear.

Is there any other way to access international coverage of the Olympics from Canada?

As noted above, the CBC has sub-licensed Italian- and Spanish-language broadcast rights within Canada to TLN Media Group, owners of Telelatino and a few other specialty channels like Univision Canada and the Canadian version of Mediaset Italia. At present, it appears TLN's coverage will be mainly focused on football (soccer) matches during the Games, and will use its own announcers at least in part. (The sub-licensing announcement also mentioned Portuguese-language rights, but this coverage was ultimately not part of TLN's final schedule.)

Beyond that, authorized access to international coverage will likely be limited to the type of highlight coverage available on other non-rightsholding channels, which the IOC has attempted to set strict limits on. It's our recollection that in the past, some channels like TV Japan, the Japanese-language North American TV channel operated by that country's public broadcaster NHK, were able to offer short highlight programs focusing on their countries' athletes with special permission from NBC; it does not appear that this will be repeated for the Tokyo games.

What about other streaming and networking apps I might see ads for, promising they'll give me access?

We are aware that there are other streaming or networking services that market themselves in Canada as ways to access sports programming like the Olympic Games. However, only CBC/Radio-Canada and its sub-licence partners are authorized to broadcast and stream the games within Canada, as can be confirmed on the IOC's official website. Similarly, the CBC does not have streaming rights outside Canada, and has made clear its disapproval of those trying to resell its coverage.

Other streaming sites may provide lower quality streams and can be subject to closure without notice or refund. Many international streaming services, even if they are authorized by the IOC for their own countries, are required to try to block out-of-country access through virtual private networks. Therefore, we cannot recommend these sorts of services, and any usage is purely at your own risk.

Can I watch the CBC's coverage outside Canada?

Just as NBC coverage cannot stream its coverage outside the United States, the CBC is similarly unable to offer streaming access to Canadian coverage outside Canada. We will refer you to the previous section in regards to services claiming to offer streaming access to the CBC's coverage outside Canada.

However, as the CBC has noted, if you live in an area where CBC Television is regularly available on cable, including parts of upstate New York, Washington state, and Bermuda, you will be able to watch coverage that way – for the same reasons that NBC broadcast network coverage will be available in Canada as described above.

I have another question, complaint or suggestion about the Canadian TV coverage. Who should I write to?

The CBC has prepared answers to a number of common questions related to Olympics coverage on the help section of its website, and we suggest you consult this first.

If you have any Olympics-related questions and comments not addressed by those answers, they can be sent to the CBC's audience relations team via the form at this link: https://cbchelp.cbc.ca/hc/en-ca/requests/new?ticket_form_id=259487

If that doesn't resolve your concerns, you could consider sending your thoughts directly to the IOC. However, this is unlikely to do much during the 2020 games; at most it would make the organizers aware of these issues and potentially affect future broadcasting contracts.

As a reminder, the website you're on right now, Where Can I Watch, is an independent website not affiliated with any broadcaster or event organizer. We unfortunately cannot assist with any specific issues you may have with the coverage beyond directing you to the CBC's contact page linked above.


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