Get Ready for Some Olympic-Sized Authentication Frustration

A year and a half ago, I found myself on vacation during the middle of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. And since I was on vacation, I wasn’t content to sit by the TV and watch hours of prime time coverage to catch Michael Phelps breaking all sorts of records. But I happened to have my laptop with me, so I just tuned in to to catch up on all that I had missed.

Apparently I wasn’t alone, as millions logged on to NBC’s online coverage of the games that summer. During the two weeks of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, served a total of 75.5 million streams and 9.9 million hours of online video coverage.

But in 2008 I wasn’t a cable subscriber, so I was effectively getting access to video that others had “paid for” through their cable subscriptions — a practice that NBC will crack down on during the 2010 Winter Games. In 2010, NBC would restrict my access to that content because I hadn’t paid its cable partners for content that will be shown on CNBC or MSNBC.

Making matters worse is the fact that there’s an authentication process, in which those who actually do pay for cable must prove that they are subscribers through various methods (which differ by cable provider). When you log onto and attempt to watch “exclusive video” on the site, you’re led to a page that looks like this: (Oh look! I could win a free trip to the Olympic Training Center!)

Now that I’m a Verizon FiOS subscriber, I should be able to access content on There’s just one problem — the site is asking for my Verizon FiOS log-in information, which frankly, I don’t remember.

While the log-in is apparently one-time only, and not nearly as onerous as installing the Comcast Access software for its TV Everywhere authentication, I don’t foresee myself looking for my FiOS password (or possibly resetting it) just so I can watch an on-demand stream of last night’s curling finals. And I suspect I’m not alone. For me and probably many others, online video viewing of the Olympics will be limited to what we can find on third-party news sites. For everything else, we’ll just set our DVRs, or maybe tune in to ESPN’s SportsCenter.

No doubt NBC will tout online video viewing as “record breaking” for the 2010 Winter Olympics, but it will do so only in the sense that the programmer didn’t really stream any video from the last Winter Games. Even so, you can expect more frustration and less actual viewers than you should for an event of this size.

Related NewTeeVee content: Where to Watch the 2010 Winter Olympics Online

Related GigaOm Pro content: Live Event Coverage: Video Rights Roundtable (subscription required)

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