Blog Post

So far, even the Olympics can’t budge our outdated TV models

Once again, NBC is irritating the heck out of millions of Americans by messing around with the Olympics. Once again, the decision to show the opening ceremony in prime time via a time delay has resulted in people accusing NBC of “not getting it,” and of thinking “it’s 1992.” Once again, the decision to edit the games has some sports fans irked about cuts NBC made in the opening ceremony.

And once again, U.S. consumers don’t get it. Sure, people are frustrated because they can’t easily stream the Olympics online without a cable subscription, and there will always be sports fans who don’t want the edited version of The Games with the life stories on athletes and dramatic cuts. But frankly, for now, NBC doesn’t really care what those people want.

NBC paid $1.18 billion for the right to broadcast the Olympics and it will be a cold day in hell before it dilutes the amount it can charge advertisers or the value it has to cable providers. In many ways, even though NBC depends on huge audiences to justify the rates it’s charging advertisers, it can afford to alienate some of them. And it’s worth noting that there are probably millions of happy families who watched the opening ceremony last night and had little idea it could be any other way.

In the U.S., people who want to stream are a highly vocal minority, but it’s a minority that is growing. And while NBC may not care that I — as one of the between 3.6 or 9 million cord cutters — couldn’t authenticate to see the opening ceremony via the web or streaming, maybe someone should.

NBC broadcast an edited and time-delayed version of the opening ceremony last night over the air, but I couldn’t see that either. I can’t get over-the-air TV since the switch from analog to digital TV signals in 2009, because my home just doesn’t seem to be in the right location. Even satellites don’t work. The only way I could watch NBC’s broadcast of the ceremony was if I paid for cable, but that’s not something I want to do just to watch a once-every-two-year event. And anyway, I shouldn’t have to buy cable to see the opening ceremony, since NBC is using the public airwaves for free to deliver broadcast TV. Glenn Fleishman via Twitter suggested that the FCC ought to investigate this, and maybe it should.

But really what I think needs to occur is a realization that until the business models right themselves in the TV industry, consumers, especially cord cutters, are going to get screwed out of some content. It’s not “fair,” but as the population of people who demand streaming grows, and they in turn are seen a valuable demographic to advertisers, then perhaps the next Summer Games will give consumers more of what they want, where and when they want it.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user Padmayogini

27 Responses to “So far, even the Olympics can’t budge our outdated TV models”

  1. I totally agree with you. I don’t have cable either and can’t get NBC over the air in my house.. I use the Internet for everything: Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV.

    I can’t seem to find the full Opening Ceremonies video online, just some ‘selected’ sections that you can stream from the NBC website. So frustrating!

  2. Allan Alarcon

    I can’t watch it since I was outside the UK, I tried accessing the youtube videos but wouldn’t let me either, so i’m like, what’s going on??? Someone told me to use a vpn and I got one from and just watched it through my computer monitor.

  3. Not being able to stream otherwise free content unless you own a cable subscription is like not being able to take the bus unless you own a car: completely irrational and wasteful.

  4. Tamara

    Your article is right on Stacey. My husband and I are having the exact same issue as we gave up our cable over a year ago. I can’t believe that we can’t get access to it anywhere. And, I would love to know about the free iPad app that someone referred to, the only one I can find is one where you have to verify your cable provider. I can’t believe that our country is able to censor a global event just because someone chooses not to pay for cable. I would also pay a one time fee if it was even an option. This stunt is ridiculous and infuriating.

  5. Ellen Jean Meany

    I find the coverage really frustrating, though I understand the need to put sports deemed popular in America in prime time.
    I just wish, since it is on tape, that the editing was better!! RE Sunday show: Do we really need 10 minutes of American gymnasts watching for their scores, instead of, I don’t know, some other gymnasts performing? The super close-ups of the weeping young woman who didn’t get the chance at the all-around was painful and unnecessary. And in swimming, showing the American men staring at scores instead of the French celebrating, ugh!!
    The commenting is so mediocre in many places as well. Matt Lauer was awful at the opening ceremonies. The only research they did for the lame remarks was on historical sh*t we all already know.
    So far, the soccer coverage has been the highlight. I get the Olympic soccer channel on DISH; and MSNBC. I don’t get the NBC Sports channel.

  6. Paper Boy

    If you want to see everything as it is – go watch the games in person…. if you don’t want to pay to receive your entertainment – move to a communist country. Just appreciate what you have and stop whining.

  7. Doug Wicks

    Completely agree. Sports TV rights is a archaic. I want to watch MLS or MLB via the Internet, but when cable or broadcast cherry pick the best games, I can stream a radio feed, but can’t get video. How much sense does that make?!? I gave up on NBC Olympic broadcast coverage years ago – clearly designed for women … not bad, just not for me.

  8. I don’t pay for cable tv, and never will again. Anyone that wants to watch the BBC feed, which I highly recommend, should simply buy a VPN and proxy from the UK. It allows you to appear as if your computer is in the UK and then you can stream the BBC feed. It’s simple. I too would have paid a one-time fee to stream the olympics from NBC and probably would have paid more than what I did to set up the VPN (5 pounds). The networks in this country, broadcast and cable, simply have blinders on when it comes to alternative business models.

    • Georgia A

      This is exactly what I did (don’t own a TV/no cable subscription). I would be entirely willing to pay a fee to NBC for proper US access, but since that’s not available paying for a proxy was probably cheaper and only marginally more complicated. Plus it means I could watch the opening ceremony a day later with no cuts.

  9. They’ll sort it out eventually (maybe in 4 years?). They have to: my kids, ages 9-15 don’t watch anything real time. Nor do they watch much on the big screen TV except streamed content. It’s all time shifted, on the iPad, computer, phone, and on demand. So we don’t have cable or satellite anymore. No one used it. No one cares it’s gone. Sad thing is, though everyone in my household is an active athlete and we even have local kids competing in London, no one cares about the Olympics either. Once again we’re shown that the medium is the message. Once the Olympics gets this and hopefully NBC execs will get it, form and format will adapt to the new expectations for consuming content.

  10. I have two forms of delivery: 1) Over the Air HDTV and 2) Streaming content. I understand that NBC bid for this Olympics when the business model supported cable/satellite subscriptions.

    I watched the opening ceremonies on the local broadcast and the only issue that caused me to turn it off was the inability to mute the inane commentary and skip the boring parts. I can accept commercials on an ATSC broadcast, but after years of nonlinear viewing, it is the ability to \”find\” the content in the rough that is most important.

    We all know NBC and the major media outlets do not get it, so why complain when they drop the ball on the opening ceremonies for 2012.The Olympics are once every four years, but every day ESPN and Disney show that they have minimal understanding of the online potential for direct subscriptions. I pay $80 per month in subscriber fees to the following (Hulu Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Fox Soccer, MLB, MLS and more). I will gladly pay $20 per month for ESPN and ESPN2.

    At the end of the day, NBC is doing a fine job of providing access to the first online driven Olympics. I saw yesterday that they had multiple Batmitton (spelling? Who cares?) matches being streamed. We all find ways to the content. But, it would be nice to not have the browser crash every 15 minutes.

    Thanks NBC for a decent attempt at a mobile Olympics. I give it a 7.0, while the East German judge gives it a 2.0.

  11. Zachary Tirrell

    I have Dish Network. I pay to get NBC (and inadvertently CNBC), but I do not get MSNBC. Since I don’t have the trifecta… no online streaming of any Olympics content for me either. That is just plain dumb.

  12. Peter Mullen

    Excellent post and maddening to know NBC has its head in the sand (or up its …) with regard to what consumers really want. It’s the old legacy broadcast model mentality that says, we decide what you want, not you. We should all hit them hard on Twitter and send their sentiment analysis off the charts

  13. Holden Caulfield

    Your comments are certainly relevant. However, I am currently streaming Women’s fencing live over my iPad for “free” using a free app.

    If I was a cable subscriber with no interest in the Olympics, then why should I have to bear the cost of streaming them to a minority?

    I realize you aren’t being served in your demographic, however, I am, and I am enjoying every minute of it.

    One day we can all dream of a la carte services, and paying only for what we personally desire to watch.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    • John Molloy

      Did you enjoy every minute of the opening ceremony? NBC blocked it even though I pay my cable fee and then, to add insult to injury, they censored it cutting out bits like the 7/7 memorial sequence.

      Could you imagine what the reaction would be like if the BBC cut out all references to a 9/11 memorial from a worldwide television broadcast coming from America?

      Shame on the BBC.

    • Kool-Aid Yeti

      huh? Your logic is strange… if not completely off. It’s not about the cable subscribers bearing the cost for online users to have access. It’s about NBC missing a huge opportunity to rake in money using a pay-to-view package for ONLINE users because, you know, that’s where everything and almost everyone can be found these days. A simple fee in exchange for their service. Easy. Ex. NCAA tournament. Congrats on your outdated Ipad btw, maybe a new one will come out next month… I wonder how many things you are paying for that you don’t need or use on that thing? demographics LAWL

  14. James Thornton Robinson

    Stacy, I agree with you fully. I have not had a TV hooked up to cable or over-the-air TV for over 2 years now. It was always the model of the Olympics to be open and inclusive of everyone since it is a major global event (unlike others like the NFL which was has always been commercialized) that was to be available to everyone. The fact that NBC has locked out any non-cable-subscribers is ridiculous. I would have even been willing to pay a one-time fee to cover the cost of streaming the Olympics. So instead of millions from advertisers, cable companies, and probably a few hundred thousand from non-cable-subscribers they choose the old-hat way that obviously goes against the spirit of the Olympic Games. I certainly hope NBC included the lack of a reasonable pay as you view or a one time “Watch the Olympics with the rest of us” fee and the negative long-term PR by the people they shoved out in it’s opportunity cost calculations.