NBC’s Olympic Coverage Frustrates Cord-Cutters

Posted by on August 7, 2012 at 8:21 am

Watch the Olympics now, LIVE on tape delay!

NBC is living in the past. When NBC forked over $1.3 billion for the broadcasting rights to the London Olympic Games, the company apparently decided that the best way to recoup their costs was through the same old-school tape delay that networks were using decades ago. And the fact that it’s called “tape” delay tells you how old school it really is.

Oh, sure, every Olympic event is available to live stream on NBC’s website or via their NBC Olympics Live Extra app (provided you are a satellite or cable subscriber), but what NBC really wants you to do tune in at primetime to watch delayed coverage of the games. The better to rack up advertising dollars.

But in a world of Twitter, On Demand TV, and 24-hour news, NBC’s dated model is an Olympic-sized joke.

For starters, NBC’s live streams have been riddled with technical problems. Their “live” coverage ended up buffering right in the middle of Usain Bolt’s historic 100 meter sprint, sending irate viewers to Twitter to complain that Usain Bolt is apparently faster than the internet.

Then NBC pressured Twitter to shut down the account of Guy Adams, a journalist and one of the more outspoken critics of NBC’s tape delayed coverage of the Olympics. (Twitter quickly apologized and reinstated Adams’s account).

Yep, in the first week of the London Olympics, the #nbcfail hashtag has gained more traction than Usain Bolt’s running shoes.

Of course, that’s not even the worst thing. NBC’s online coverage is available ONLY to cable and satellite subscribers, leaving anyone without a subscription in the cold. That’s a lot of people. During the last quarter of 2011 alone, 1.6 million viewers cut their cable and satellite cords. Those people, according to NBC, are S.O.L.

There’s no option to buy a streaming package of the Olympic Games. No way to stream the Olympics on NBC-owned Hulu if you’re already a subscriber. They don’t have any kind of a la carte option. Basically, if you don’t have an expensive provider, you don’t get to see the Olympics in the U.S.

And all because NBC wants to play the old tape-delay-until-Primetime game, as if we’re all still living in 1992. I can’t even remember the last time I watched something during primetime. In the present day, anyone can buy and stream TV shows over everything from an Xbox 360 to an iPhone. To those who have already moved into the 21st century of a la carte television, NBC’s approach is frustrating in the extreme.

NBC’s stranglehold has forced U.S. cord-cutters (and those annoyed at their technical failures) to find other ways to watch the Olympics. VPN programs like TunnelBear, which “tunnel” your internet connections to other locations around the world, can be used to bypass localization restrictions. Using such VPN programs, Americans have been able to watch the Olympics via the BBC, which doesn’t require viewers to have a British cable or satellite subscription. And there’s no Bob Costas either, so that’s a bonus.

All of that said, of course, NBC can still point to their impressive Olympic ratings. And they’re right. It’s not like we have a lot of other options, but NBC’s “old school” model is still raking in lots of viewers and big dollars. For all my harping, cord-cutters are in the vast minority right now.

But between now and the next Olympic Games, how many more people will have moved on from the primetime model? How many more will have cut their satellite and cable cords? Do we really have to look forward to more tape delays, more internet streaming issues and more archaic viewing restrictions in the years to come?

We should be able to watch the games anytime, anywhere. We should be able to pay for a streaming package, in the very least – or an app – without needing to also buy a subscription to some bloated cable or satellite service with 500 channels that we’ll never watch. It’s time to move on, NBC. It’s time to join us in the 21st century. When you do, we’ll be waiting.

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