If you’ve been frustrated with the way NBC is airing this month’s Olympic games on cable TV — particularly for those of us on the West Coast — you are not alone.
Starting with the Opening Ceremony on Friday and through Sunday evening’s swimming and gymnastics events, complaints poured in over social media and the Internet with folks annoyed at NBC’s tape delays.
NBC is tape-delaying most of the highly-anticipated competitions. For example, when Michael Phelps and the U.S. men’s swimming freestyle relay team won a gold medal on Sunday, viewers on the West Coast didn’t see the race on NBC until several hours after it actually happened. And for the Opening Ceremony, even East Coast viewers had a one-hour delay.
NBC’s idea is to get people watching during the evening “PrimeTime” slot and create “packages” of content driven by storytelling, while maximizing advertising revenue. Sally Jenkins, a veteran sportswriter for The Washington Post, took issue with this strategy, saying that it insults both viewers and athletes.
Even if you buy NBC’s argument that the majority of the viewing public prefers edited, packaged programming over the vagaries of live sports competition, then ask yourself this question: Why aren’t NFL football telecasts tape delayed and packaged? Why don’t the networks delay and collapse the games in favor of sugary features showing childhood films of the Manning brothers on a swing set instead of wasting viewers’ time with a penalty-filled second quarter?
For some, the delays can be beneficial. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum wrote that it’s “how most normal people like it. You know, the ones who have to work during the day and don’t get home until 6 or 7 o’clock.”
But the delay also creates frustration for folks that want to avoid spoilers, particularly with social media’s prevalence. As The Ringer’s Claire McNear points out, showing delayed events in primetime “is all well and good, except that there’s this thing called the internet that beams information, pictures, and video around the planet at great speeds.”
How do I watch the Olympics not on horrible West Coast tape delay when I've already gotten push alerts about the winners
— Doree Shafrir (@doree) August 8, 2016
Bye Twitter. You're ruining everything. I want to be surprised when we win gold, dammit!
— Alexis Mansanarez (@almansanarez) August 8, 2016
It used to be just annoying. But now the tape delay plus Twitter has broken the Olympics. Upside: stoked to get to bed early tonight.
— Chris Sacca (@sacca) August 8, 2016
McNear noted that delays might make more sense when the games are played halfway around the world, but since Rio de Janeiro is just four hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, keeping that delay “is absurd at best, and shallowly profit-minded at worst,” she wrote.
Stinks in this day & age to be in Los Angeles & not be able to watch LIVE the Opening Ceremony of the 31st Olympiad with most of world.
— Pam Shriver (@PHShriver) August 6, 2016
NBC just finished airing its coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games here in the Pacific Time Zone. On to Rio!
— Seattle Sportsnet (@alexSSN) August 8, 2016
wow look at how far ahead the east coast's coverage of the olympics is pic.twitter.com/ase0HDJHJG
— Sean Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) August 8, 2016
So are there any alternatives for folks that want more than NBC’s nightly coverage? Yes.
For starters, NBC is live-streaming 4,500 hours of coverage online and via its app (it is airing nearly 6,800 total hours altogether). Though the Opening Ceremony wasn’t streamed live, you can watch other big competitions as they happen and not wait for the nightly show. For example, I watched Sunday’s freestyle swimming relay on my laptop in real-time at NBCOlympics.com, well before it was shown on the tube.
You will need cable credentials to access the NBC stream. However, there is hope for cord-cutters. CutCableToday has a thorough list of options, and Sling TV seems reasonable. The service, operated by Dish, offers free 7-day trials; you can also pay around $35 for more than 1,000 hours of streaming Olympics coverage.
As LifeHacker notes, you can subscribe to a Sling TV trial, then, once that expires in one week, sign up for a PlayStation Vue trial — Sony’s streaming service also offers Olympics channels like NBC, NBCSN, MSNBC, and more.
Be sure to check if Sling and/or PlayStation streams NBC and other related channels in your market.
Then there is the virtual private network (VPN) route. Some people get online via VPN, re-route their connection through a different country’s server, and access an Olympic feed from a foreign network like BBC or CBC.
As far as figuring out what to watch and when, NBC’s app and online Olympics hub are solid options. Bing did something new this year, turning its search engine into a smart TV guide of sorts. Google also unveiled new features to help people follow the action this month. Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa can answer Olympics schedule-related questions. Finally, CutCableToday outlined which specific channels are showing which sports.
Will NBC change its live distribution strategy, both via broadcast and streaming, for the 2018 Winter Olympics? Viewership numbers from this year’s competition for both channels will definitely play a role (Rio’s Opening Ceremony was the lowest-rated since 2004). New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo has an interesting idea:
Here's what NBC should do: sign a deal with Twitter/FB etc to notify and stream live the key events right before they start, within the apps
— Farhad Manjoo ? (@fmanjoo) August 9, 2016