No Olympics For Us

This entry was published at least two years ago (originally posted on February 13, 2010). Since that time the information may have become outdated or my beliefs may have changed (in general, assume a more open and liberal current viewpoint). A fuller disclaimer is available.

While it’s not quite to the point of being what I’d call a “boycott,” it’s looking like the chances are extremely slim that we’re going to be watching much of this year’s Olympic coverage. We’d like to, but NBC has done a marvelous job of ensuring that we either can’t watch, or when we can, we don’t want to.

We just tried to watch some of this afternoon’s coverage. In the roughly fifteen minutes before we couldn’t take it any longer, we saw three commercial breaks, four talking heads (with audio lagging about a second behind the video feed), a bit of an interview with the first medalist from this year’s games, and eight-year-old footage from that same athlete’s first win in 2002. We listened to Bob Costas tell us that he was in Vancouver and that there were sports going on. We heard — again — about the accidental death on the luge track. We heard an interviewer ask an athlete “how he did it” after winning (um, he practiced his ass off, you idiot — why are sports interviewers always at the very bottom of the “stupid interview question” scale?).

What we didn’t see was any actual sports footage.

Oh, how I miss watching the last Summer Olympics on CBC, the Canadian network that Comcast carries locally. Their coverage was leagues better than anything NBC had: fewer inane talking heads (which can be interpreted as fewer talking heads overall or less inanity from the talking heads they had, either of which is an acceptable and correct reading); less “we’re the only country that matters” mentality; comprehensive coverage of all sorts of sports, even those that are less massively popular; and coverage that wasn’t constantly cut into with edits, updates, promises of what’s to come, and commercials (we spent one afternoon watching an entire marathon nearly commercial free, in part because we could, and in part because it was far more interesting than we’d ever realized, simply by virtue of actually being able to watch it). The realization that CBC wouldn’t be broadcasting the Olympics this year — and, further, that the Canadian network that got the contract isn’t viewable locally — was a sad one indeed.

Lately, we’ve been enjoying my new computer’s ability to watch streaming video sites like Hulu and Netflix, so I went to the NBC Olympics site to see what was available there. They’re posting a number of videos of stuff that has already happened, but prominently displayed on the main page is a live video stream (only active at particular times and for particular events, however). I click that, and am asked to tell NBC who my cable or Internet provider is. Apparently, NBC will only serve the live video to customers of certain other companies that they have contracts with. Annoying, but hey, Comcast is right near the top of the list, and we have Comcast cable, so we should be good.

After choosing Comcast, I get directed to a Comcast login page. I log in to Comcast, and they direct me back to the video stream…which tells me I’m not eligible. What? I go through the process again, and this time, work my way through until I discover that even though NBC has a contract with Comcast, and even though I’m a Comcast cable subscriber, I’m not the right kind of Comcast cable subscriber.

See, Prairie and I don’t watch a ton of TV, don’t see the need to pay ridiculous amounts of money for hundreds of channels we’ll never watch, and don’t even have a digital TV — both of our TVs are old, square, analog sets. So, there’s no reason for us to subscribe to digital cable, and we’re quite happy with our $15/month bare bones, completely basic, plug-the-cable-into-the-back-of-the-TV-set package (and honestly, we wouldn’t even bother with that if we got decent over-the-air reception with a digital receiver box, but OTA digital TV is essentially nonexistent in the Kent Valley). However, it appears that Comcast has decided that people like us don’t count, and is only sending the video streams to customers who subscribe to a digital cable package.


Out of curiosity, I took a look at Comcast’s website — and after poking around there, I think that digital cable prices might be one of the biggest arguments against upgrading our TVs until we absolutely have to (when they die, that is). Right now, we’re paying $15/month for a bare-bones package that serves us more than adequately — in fact, we only pay attention to about 7 of the 30-some channels that are part of the package, so there’s an argument to be made that even now, we’re over paying. If we were to upgrade to a digital cable package, the least expensive package available is $60 a month! Of course, what the website says is $30/month, but that’s only for the first six months. I can’t think of any reason why I’d want to quadruple what I’m currently paying so that I can have more crap that I’m not interested in piped into my home, no matter how pretty it is or how much of it has surround sound.

Further down the page, they mention a “Digital Economy Package,” apparently aimed at people like us, that actually is $30/month — but, of course, you can only get that if you also get your phone and/or internet through Comcast, which we don’t. So, once again, that’s not an option.

(Heading off counter-arguments: satellite TV isn’t an option, our apartment faces the wrong direction; and outlying the money for a HTPC/Media Center of some sort isn’t a realistic option for both budgetary reasons and that nagging little fact that we’re still using “old school” TV sets. I’ve got a very nice Sony TV set that’s only eight years old, and my parents have a Sony TV set that’s in its 30s and still working, so we may well not be upgrading our hardware for a long time to come.)

The end result of all of this? NBC can bite me, Comcast can bite me, and the Olympics — well, it’s not really their fault, but come on.

10 thoughts on “No Olympics For Us”

  1. Not specific to Olympics, but in general I’m with you on the cable and network disdain. We cancelled our cable a while back, it was juts outrageously expensive for an activity we really don’t want to encourage (sitting around watching the boob-toob). I find dealing with Comcast, and even now Verizon my Internet/Phone provider to be like pulling teeth. Every time I talk to them the try to convince me to get back on the junk. They are pushers. And they have no shame.

  2. I read this as nate was ranting about the exact same thing. Today, he wanted to watch the cross-country ski events that were listed on the schedule for today, but as true for all of the nordic events, NBC was not going to be airing them. Actually, we heard somewhere what being only a couple hours away from the Olympics, if one were to just show up, you could buy tickets from a scalper and spend a fortune to see the events… unless you wanted to see the Nordic events. Those are no problem to get into. But that’s an aside. So he took me to the hospital for a treatment and said, he’d track it down on-line later, and just discovered what you did. We don’t pay for cable, therefore, no on-line converage from NBC. And we can’t even watch the candian streams because we aren’t in Canada!!!

    But don’t count out television all together. I’m guessing that you don’t have a digital converter box. We got ours a year ago and plugged it in only to discover that we got more channels, with better reception, then what we were paying Broadstripe $20/month for, so we dropped cable. So without paying a penny for cable, we get around 20 channels including the major networks, several public broadcast channels, and several non-english channels. This is perfect. We tended to watch mostily PBS when we had cable. And the Korean channel is awesome when we can bring it in.

    I guess we’ll just have to rent the Olympics from Netflix after the fact, like we do everything else that it on cable.

  3. NBC’s made sure that CTV’s video streams are blocked from U.S. IP addresses, and I’m not invested enough to try to the various means of jumping through hoops that Lifehacker’s suggesting to get quazi-legal streams of questionable content and quality.

  4. I’m guessing that you don’t have a digital converter box.

    We tried that — matter of fact, we picked up two when the gov’t was handing out coupons for ’em, and I’ve still got one (the other’s been donated to Prairie’s mom). Unfortunately, here in the Kent valley, reception is dodgy at best.

    When I hooked the box up, we were only able to get a couple channels, and while I don’t remember which they were, they weren’t channels that we were particularly interested in. Theoretically, an external antenna might help, but as we’re in an apartment building, that’s not an option for us.

    So it’s cable or nothing (though there are some days that going back to nothing is really tempting).

  5. Not to mention the website is a pretty darn frustrating experience as well. There’s a 30-second ad before /every/ single video I watch, regardless of length. The player crashes my Safari browser. And yet, they went to the trouble of putting a “boss” button on the player that pauses the video and pops up a fake Windows Vista desktop. Really?!

    To make it even worse, when I go to a friends place to watch (I don’t have Cable TV either), the results of the races actually get spoiled by the damn news! Yup, before the delayed feed even hits, I’ve got newscasters telling me who won the events I wanted to watch.

  6. We even have all the comcast required packages but still aren’t able to log in. Even called comcast and they confirmed I should have access but they didn’t know why it wasn’t working. Still isn’t! They are terrible.

  7. You just gave voice to my frustration. The only thing I really wanted to watch was curling, and it took me a few hours this weekend to figure out the myriad of ways I was being restricted from doing that. I’m a Time Warner subscriber, and I’m limited in exactly the same way: I have only the basic channels. Couldn’t they set up a simple pay button for people who don’t have cable? Like $15 to get the streaming and full replays for the two weeks? It couldn’t be that hard.

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