NBC Skimps on Online Olympics Coverage — Again

Don’t expect to watch the 2010 Winter Olympics live online — unless you like cross-country skiing. NBC Sports has released its coverage schedule for the Vancouver games, and once again, it has made the decision to keep marquee events from being shown live online. Despite touting more than 835 hours of live video from the Winter Games, less than half of that will be actually be streamed live online.

As usual, the company is saving premiere events — figure skating and alpine skiing — for broadcast on NBC network, along with freestyle skiing, speed skating, snowboarding, and short track. Meanwhile, the various cable nets, including USA, CNBC and MSNBC, will have extensive live coverage of sports like ice hockey, the biathlon, and curling. But none of that will be live online; instead, the remaining 400 hours of live coverage on NBCOlympics.com will consist primarily of events like bobsledding, cross-country skiing, the luge and snowboarding.

The situation is similar to what happened during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, when NBC touted more than 2,200 hours of live Olympic coverage on NBCOlympics.com and a total of 3,000 hours of on-demand video. In that case, the remaining 800 hours were events that were scheduled for live broadcast on NBC and the company’s cable networks. (Unfortunately, NBC didn’t take our suggestion to get rid of tape delays for online video.)

The big difference between the 2010 Winter Games and the 2008 Summer Games is that this year, NBC plans to tie online access to its coverage of the events to an authentication scheme that will determine whether or not users have a cable subscription. So live, streaming video at NBCOlympics.com will only be available to those that have paid for cable access.

So between the lack of live events online and the authentication scheme, you can expect that a number of users will seek alternative ways of finding Olympics video, just as they did in 2008.