NBC, the Olympics, and the Disappointment of a Sick Little Girl

Yesterday, Evie had surgery to install a 4th set of ear tubes. At this point, that’s all very routine for that poor girl, and not what I’m here to talk about. I would like to talk about the Winter Olympics and NBC’s right to broadcast them.

After the surgery, Evie wanted to lay around on the couch a bit and watch the Olympics. Specifically figure skating, but anything would do. Knowing that NBC had the broadcast rights, I set her up on the couch with a blanket, and turned on the tv. I honestly thought that NBC was basically broadcasting Olympic coverage day and night, but instead they chose to show Days of our Lives or whatever their normal soap opera is.

Fair enough, no problem. I don’t give up easy: let’s turn to the Internet.

Our first stop was olympic.org, which contains videos from past Olympic games, but nothing from 2014. No video on sochi2014.com either. Okay, how about NBC? They have all the rights, surely they’re streaming video, even if they’re not playing on their broadcast. Oh, I have to download an app first? Le sigh, okay fine.

Now here’s where it starts to get truly frustrating. The app was large and took quite a long time to download. So by the time we’re booting up the app, we’ve been looking for video for about 30 minutes. But okay, we’re on the path now. We’re golden, right?

Wrong.

In order to watch the Olympics on NBC’s streaming app, you have to specify your cable carrier. We don’t have cable. You don’t need cable to watch NBC, and you *shouldn’t* need NBC to enjoy the Olympics. But you do…if you live in the United States*.

We were eventually able to sign up for a limited viewing time (30 minutes only) and get something up, but at this point 1) we had spent so long on this that Evie really didn’t care anymore, and 2) the app was so crappy that we kept freezing and losing video to the point that it was unwatchable anyway.

*The part we couldn’t figure out was why wouldn’t the Olympics themselves be broadcasting? I mean, sure, NBC has the rights in the U.S. so they would prefer nobody else step on that, but what about the rest of the world? They wouldn’t be beholden to NBC, right? Isn’t the Olympics bigger than NBC?

I’ve recently discovered that there are other websites which stream the Olympics, such as the BBC and CBC, but you are blocked from them if your ip address comes from the U.S. You can get around that by tricking them into thinking your ip address is originating from somewhere else in the world, at which point you can stream all the glorious Olympic action your heart can handle. But that’s a little much, isn’t it? (And possibly illegal).

I understand all of this is big business and totally allowable. NBC and the Olympics can sign whatever deal they want. NBC can broadcast whatever they want. I have no inherent right to see the Olympics, so I can want what I want, but that doesn’t mean I can have it. NBC is a private institution; we don’t have a government-sponsored channel.

On the other hand, there was a little girl recovering from surgery and wanting to watch some figure skating. Wanting to root for her country. Wanting to learn about the world.

Well, welcome to the world, sweetheart. Big business wins out every time.

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3 thoughts on “NBC, the Olympics, and the Disappointment of a Sick Little Girl

  1. There’s actually a similar agreement in most countries. One network typically gets coverage rights. In the UK, that’s naturally the BBC. In Canada, it’s CBC.

    In Norway, the Olympics have usually been aired by the national network, and this is the first time one of the commercial networks has the rights. There was a lot of talk about it, because people were very worried about how much access they would have.

    We are facing similar issues in that you can’t watch the games online without a special package from the network. This is disappointing, because the national network had 6 online networks that aired the entire summer games live online. (They just didn’t have commentary for the more obscure events. It was just a video feed from the arena.) However, the network has had pretty good televised coverage. They do have three different channels (all affiliated with the same network) to air things on, and they’re not all three Olympics all the time, but there’s almost always something on one of them.

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    • It strikes me as pretty old fashioned to think that you can just decide what everybody is going to watch. I mean, that was great for NBC in the 50s, not so much in 2014. People have 100 channels and Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime and whatever else. It’s just not how it works anymore; you don’t tell me what to watch, I watch whatever I want to watch.

      They’ve obviously got cameras at the various events, so stream them online. I’m not opposed to you making some money, it’s not my first time at the rodeo. Advertise to me, I don’t care. But don’t tell me what I can and can’t watch. Don’t tell me I’d rather see soap operas or that I only care about events where the U.S. is going to win the gold, or if figure skating is on I’m going to watch it whether I want to or not, curling be damned.

      Don’t hold 314 billion people hostage.

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      • This is why I like it being aired by the national network. There’s no financial incentive to show anything that might have higher ratings. I keep wondering what would happen if PBS had the broadcast rights to the Olympics.

        (As for the cameras, aside from interviews, the entire world shares the same set of cameras and video feed. It’s just the commentary that changes by network.)

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