Can't Watch The Olympics? Blame NBC

The Olympic games officially begin tonight in Sochi, but if you're one of several million US citizens who don't pay for cable access, you're not going to be watching much of that content online. While NBC is officially streaming the entire games, those streams are reserved for paying cable customers. In 2011, NBC cut a deal with the International Olympics Committee to hold exclusive rights to the Olympic Games through 2020. That means NBC gets to decide who sees the feed -- and who doesn't.

Those broadcast fees are now a huge percentage of total Olympic Games revenue, according to the Washington Post, which explains why locking them up in a monopoly deal was more attractive than selling competing licenses. NBC paid $775M for exclusive rights to Sochi, but the majority of the ad sales for the games have flowed to TV, not digital. Apparently digital ads have only accounted for about one tenth of total ad sales, which explains why NBC isn't interested in pushing content to the platform. Why let people watch online when you can lock their eyeballs into the far higher revenue stream offered by television?

Your options for watching the Olympics without a cable subscription are as follows:

Buy an antenna: If over-the-air (OTA) NBC is available in your area, you can watch a promised 158 hours of broadcast NBC for coverage. You'll need a digital antenna, but you won't end up with a $90 a month cable bill on top of it.

Use a VPN: If you're a bit more technologically proficient, a handy VPN to make you look like a Canadian or British person will allow for Games viewing. Granted, the BBC and CBC both take a dim view of this (it's officially against their own TOS), but paying NBC a for a month of cable access in order to watch only the Olympics (with no choice to purchase a digital subscriber package) is the bigger pricing problem.

Image courtesy of the Washington Post

If you don't have an antenna or the know-how to configure a VPN for this kind of service, take heart. NBC will allow you to watch up to 30 minutes of coverage the first time you visit the site and 5 minutes per day thereafter. Our prediction is that this stunning offer of generosity isn't likely to sit well with the majority of viewers. Again, by failing to allow for a legitimate method of purchase by digital streamers, the company ensures that piracy is the only way for an estimated 10 million Americans to actually enjoy the Olympics.