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One of the great ironies about the 2012 Summer Games is that Americans online have been so dedicated to complaining about NBC’s Olympics coverage that it’s a shame it’s not a medal event — but NBC (s CMCSK) is recording not only record televised ratings, but off-the-charts performance for its online and mobile offerings. And that’s remarkable, given the fact that the website’s coverage is limited to those with a cable subscription — no cord cutters allowed.
So what does the cable subscriber get for their monthly fees? I sat down with NBCOlympics.com twice: First, on Friday afternoon, when due to the time difference live-stream options were limited. So initially, I decided to watch an archived event, selecting the bronze medal archery match because allegedly archery is one of the more popular sports this time around.
When I hit the watch button for the match, the site took me to log in with my cable provider (requesting the same login I use for HBO Go) and it was authorized in literally 30 seconds, which was a pleasant surprise.
However, in a Hulu-esque “just because you’re a subscriber doesn’t mean you’re going to escape ads” move, I immediately got hit with a 15-second pre-roll. Then it jumped right into the action with no commentary — minus some loading/buffering issues that could be chalked up to the age of my machine and my internet connection.
After a bit of archery, I switched over to try some live video — while it was 12 AM in London, NBC Sports’ stream was active — and was hit with a 30 second pre-roll on that.
NBCSN was showing more archery, albeit this time with announcer commentary — but two minutes later, the round ended, and the broadcast switched over to not one, not two, but FIVE ads.
The ads weren’t from the broadcast, though, instead being fed through YouTube’s player — made clear when I caught the tail end of a JC Penney ad right before returning to the action.
At that point, archery had lost its luster, but the site’s sidebar showed that the CNBC live stream was showing boxing. I loaded it up in the secondary screen:
And then I swapped it into the main player — just in time, as NBCSN had gone off the air. The screen-switching action was pretty seamless, with the added bonus of being able to keep an eye on the other channel.
However, almost immediately after making the switch, boxing switched to commercials. EIGHT commercials. In the first twenty minutes of my NBC Olympics experience, I saw 15 ads, ranging from 15 to 30 seconds each.
The only positive spin I can put on that kind of ad load? At least there was minimal repetition in the commercials being shown. As any active online video viewer will tell you, the only thing that makes an oversaturated ad experience worse is when it’s the same ad, over and over again.
My second viewing session took place at 9 AM Saturday morning, so that I could check out the live sports being streamed from London — there weren’t a ton of options, but men’s power-walking beckoned. After one 15 second pre-roll ad, uninterrupted coverage of the VERY INTENSE power-walking action began.
The lack of commentary was an issue, as it meant I didn’t know how close the race was to finishing, so I switched over to men’s volleyball. One 15 second ad popped up during a time-out, but then the video went right back to the match.
Ultimately, the technology worked well for me — but man, those ads. While live sports were a lot better in that regard than the network feeds or the archived events, the amount of commercials I encountered in casual browsing easily felt excessive.
For those wanting complete control over their Olympics viewing, the amount of content NBC has made available online is impressive, and the player overall worked well — but especially given the fact that this coverage is limited to those paying $100 or more a month for cable, you definitely feel like you’re paying twice over for the experience.