Given the growth of online streaming it's kind of a no-brainer, but when the 2012 Olympics kick off later this month, fans of the games will for the first time have live access to every event -- at least every one that has a camera on the scene -- via streaming to their computers or mobile devices. Looking for boxing instead of synchronized swimming? No sweat. Is tennis your racket instead of track and field? Here you go. But, it should come as no surprise that streaming access for an event like the Olympics won't come without some catches. What kind of catches? Let's just say that hoop jumping just became an Olympic sport.
Cord cutters cut out of live Olympic streaming
The live Olympic feeds are free, but are only available to cable, satellite or telephone company (Verizon Fios and AT&T UVerse) viewers whose subscription includes both MSNBC and CNBC. That means that those who have jumped on the cord-cutting bandwagon of abandoning subscriptions with cable and similar providers in favor of online streaming from sites such as Netflix and Hulu Plus, and getting over-the-air TV via a traditional TV antenna, are shut out. Also, because your subscription must include those two NBC cable channels, even some cable subscribers -- those whose systems don't include one of those channels or viewers who've only signed up for a provider's lowest tier of service -- might find themselves on the outside looking in.
Those that do have the required subscription aren't quite done yet. Viewers will need to verify their subscription with NBC at a special website. For most users, it's a simple matter of finding your provider from a drop down list and entering your subscriber user name and password at the prompt. Those without a user name and password for their cable subscription will need to get one from their provider, however. You'll also need a relatively recent version of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome or Safari, with the Adobe Flash Player installed. Since we had the required credentials, we signed up for the service and are happy to report that the process was actually pretty painless.
An Olympics "Live Extra" app is also promised by the time the games start, and that will allow the streaming of live events to smartphones and tablets. Unfortunately, that was still in the "Coming Soon" category at the time this was written, so we couldn't check it out for ourselves.
The streaming experience
While live streaming will be a dream come-true for hardcore fans of a specific sport, it might not be everyone's cup of tea. CNBC's Darren Rovell notes that live streaming means just that -- everything is live, not neatly packaged as viewers of traditional Olympic prime-time coverage might have come to expect. "When I have gone to events at the Olympics, you can't believe how long everything takes and how bad the athletes that are on the end of the line, that you never see, are," he says.
Also, If you happen to miss one of the top events live (don't forget the time difference between the U.S. and London), you'll likely need to wait a little while to see it in all its uncut glory. Though events will be archived so that they can be viewed later, those scheduled to be shown on prime-time TV won't be archived until that evening's broadcasts have concluded.
Still, NBC promises that coverage will be truly comprehensive. It says, for example, that for track & field, streaming viewers can watch a single feed that will move from event to event, or choose a feed that concentrates on a single event, such as the pole vault. Gymnastics will get a similar treatment, and tennis fans can view any of the five courts used for early round matches.
Streaming all of this content to all of its potential viewers is an effort of Olympic proportions, and could be an Olympic-sized disaster if technical glitches or human mischief in the form of hackers gets in the way. The Wall Street Journal reports that NBC and Google are taking steps to make sure that the promised video is actually delivered, though seeing if their efforts are successful could be a stream-worthy event in its own right.