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Olympics Show That NBC and American Networks Won’t Adapt to the New Media

I connect my VPN to a server in the UK and open BBC Sport’s Olympic coverage page. I now have 24 different events that I can watch live streams of at my fingertips. The choice is mine: do I want to watch swimming or do I want to watch basketball? I can select the events [...]

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I connect my VPN to a server in the UK and open BBC Sport’s Olympic coverage page. I now have 24 different events that I can watch live streams of at my fingertips. The choice is mine: do I want to watch swimming or do I want to watch basketball? I can select the events that I want to watch when I want to watch them. If I come into the middle of an event I just click a button and I can start watching it from the beginning. If I missed an event that proved to be a classic I can go to the schedule page and find it there, just waiting for me to click and watch.

How to watch the Olympics with a VPN.

The BBC knows and understands what the modern media consumer wants, and it gives it to them: choice. The technology is there to do this in all developed countries, but it is the BBC that were the first to fully actualize this power for the Olympic games. This year, the BBC will air more hours of Olympic coverage than has ever been aired before. What is best about this is that they are giving the viewer the power and control to watch what they want when they want to.

24 live streams from separate sports that you can choose from, the ability to go back and watch events that you missed: this is the Olympics done right.

The BBC understands the new demands that the viewing public want, and they have responded.

The Olympics are a time for people to gather together and watch the athletes that they support compete in their name, it’s both a competition and a celebration. During the Olympics, the rich, the poor, the young, the old, the good, the bad, and the hideous all drop their particular differences in politics, worldviews, and lifestyles and take up a single identity: that of the country they come from. I’ve watched the Olympics from many different countries by now, and when I see groups of people gathered around television sets in the streets, in restaurants, bars, and in homes intently watching the same thing that people all over the world are watching I find a smile come across my face: once every four years the world unites on a singular focus. It’s only a bunch of kid’s games that everyone is getting all excited about, but it’s powerful nonetheless.

It’s almost a criteria of being a modern human to take at least some interest in the Summer Olympics. But then I heard that many people in my own country — which was once the global leader in technology, politics, sport, and economics — have been denied the ability to freely watch the Olympics in their own homes.

I came to a start when a friend of mine in the USA told me that he can’t watch the Olympics because he didn’t have cable. What does cable have to do with it, it’s the Olympics? was the first thing that came to mind. It was then explained to me that NBC has purchased a monopoly over the Olympic games and they are only airing their coverage to cable subscribers.

Like so many other people in the world, my friend cut the cord long ago, he streams television over the internet. This would not be any problem if he lived in the UK, Canada, or a host of other countries, but he’s in the USA, and NBC demands a TV cable subscription to even watch the Olympic games on the internet.

Cable? Seriously? The Olympic games in the USA are being aired over a retroactive technology? Is this the cutting edge of media that my country has to offer? Apparently. Many Americans now forgo cable TV not only because they don’t want to pay for it but because it’s viewed as being an archaic vestige of the old media model. To only offer the Olympics to cable subscribers, well, that’s a big step backwards.

As Monash University copyright law expert Dr Rebecca Giblin said:

“A growing number of people are no longer willing to watch TV on someone else’s schedule,” she said. “They want to watch it on their own terms when and where it’s convenient for them.”

The BBC understands this clearly, while NBC can’t seem to get their heads (or their money grasping tendrils) around this fact. It seems as if NBC may have ruined the Olympics for Americans again.

My country, the USA, was once the hare that raced far ahead of the tortoises of the world. But then, over the past ten years, something happened: many of those once slow tortoises caught up. But not only did many other countries obtain the technological prowess of the USA, but they flew right past them. Vroom, like that America was left in the middle of the pack, sucking wind.

In the USA, people who cannot afford or do not want to purchase a cable subscription will not be able to access the Olympics. NBC has purchased the rights to broadcast the event, and they are doing so in a way that they feel will make them as much money as possible.

Fair enough?

Not in this case. Just about everyone else in the world can access the Olympic games for free simply by turning on a television or booting up their computer. The USA, to my knowledge, is the only country in the world where the Olympic games are being broadcast behind a pay wall. There is something wrong here.

Even in China, where I’m currently located, the Olympics are being aired on four separate television stations for free, giving viewers at least four choices of what they watch.


The mainstream media of the United States is stuck in another era, unable to adapt to the demands of the modern media consumer. Even if you do have a cable subscription and can watch NBC’s coverage of the Olympic games I guarantee that it’s not on par with BBC’s 24 live streams of separate events that can be watched, replayed, and started at will. The BBC gives their viewers the choice of what and when they watch, while NBC reserves this right for themselves. There is a big difference between the two approaches, and this the true differentiation point between the old and the new media. One way leads to the future while the other, I’m sure, will fall by the wayside and be lost to annals of history. No longer are people content to abide by the programming schedules of the TV Guide and allow a television network to dictate how they organize their day. No longer is the viewing public going to sit tight and take whatever Olympic coverage NBC feels generous enough to sell them.


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Filed under: Internet, Media Analysis, Sports, Technology

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

2 comments… add one

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  • Places to go in Britain August 6, 2012, 9:46 am

    I agree with you that the USA coverage is shockingly bad but there is a huge difference between pretty much all of the world’s coverage of the Olympics and the BBC Coverage. For 2 main reasons.

    1. The BBC is funded by license fee payers, if you own a TV in the UK you pretty much have to pay a fee every year to use it. It’s around £130. So the BBC has a duty to cover events and produce TV that justifies this license. It’s a great idea and gives us amazing coverage of the Olympics, a huge archive of online shows, hundreds of national and local radio stations as well as digital and terrestrial channels on satellite, cable and traditional TV antenna.

    2. The Olympics are in the London. If the BBC didn’t cover every single event for the entire duration of each event the complaints would be enormous. After all 75% of the cost of the Olympics comes from the tax payer. So we deserve to see it all.

    It’s true though that the BBC are showing what can be achieved with technology but their budget and business model is very different from commercial TV networks.

    We’re off to the Olympics tomorrow! Can’t wait to visit the athletics stadium and Olympic park. It’s been an amazing games so far!

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    • Wade Shepard August 6, 2012, 10:14 am

      True, the BBC’s coverage is going to be better because they are on home turf. But what they are doing this year at the Olympics is WAY better than any television operation has ever done ever before. I don’t expect NBC to be on par with the BBC but it was well in their technological grasp to offer their viewers way better coverage through more modern mediums. Simply put, in the age of live streaming over the internet cable is an archaic technology.

      As far as funding models go, the last I knew NBC had made far more money than they thought they would (a billion+), and I think they could have offered the American public far more than they did. But, they are a corporation, and, when it comes down to it, they only people they owe anything to are their shareholders. That’s the American way, I suppose.

      It’s just real strange that the American model means a lot of people in the USA can’t even watch the games. That’s unheard of. I don’t know of any country in the world where people can’t just flip on the TV and watch the Olympics for free.

      Have fun at the games tomorrow. Let us know how it goes.

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