Watch the Olympics Live Online…If You Paid Your Cable Bill

Tomorrow is the big launch for NBC’s (s GE) 2010 Olympics coverage. With 100 days till the opening ceremonies in Vancouver, NBC Sports is flipping the switch on a new site powered by Microsoft Silverlight (s MSFT) with help from partners such as Vertigo (which built the player) and iStreamPlanet (which is coordinating the live streaming). In addition to what should be an upgraded video experience from Beijing due to technology and infrastructure improvements alone, NBC is adding social features such as Facebook Connect integration.

NBCOlympicshomeHowever, a big question is what you’ll have to do to actually watch live video. To protect its relationships with cable companies, NBC is planning to require all would-be viewers of live long-form streams to prove that they subscribe to a multi-service operator. You’ll have to authenticate that you actually pay a monthly bill to watch TV.

NBC has been quiet about the authentication process for the games, but the issue has been lurking since word got out earlier this year. All a spokesperson for NBC Sports would tell us today is “There will be an authentication process but the details have not yet been announced.” So, consider it confirmed.

Authentication is the same technique cable companies and other operators are using for their “TV Everywhere” streaming re-run sites. And there’s a precedent; for the Beijing Olympics, NBC blocked Cablevision subscribers because their MSO didn’t agree to a special Olympics package. For Vancouver, would-be watchers may be able to authenticate in advance over the next 100 days. That way you don’t have to go the process of digging out your cable bill right when you show up to see Apolo Ohno race or some famous curler curl.

NBC also has yet to announce which sports will be streamed live online. It’s probably not a good idea to count on figure skating and downhill skiing making it to your PC in real time, though we can hope.

Whatever gets shown and whoever gets to see it, the games are sure to be a major event in live-streaming history. While the Winter Olympics are smaller and shorter than those in the Summer, they’ll be happening in Pacific Time. And workday streams, like those for March Madness, are typically the most popular, as compared to events that are shown in the evenings when people are at home on the couch.

Meanwhile, in Canada, every single moment of the entire games will be live-streamed to all Canadians.

Image via TechCrunch.