How to watch the 2016 Summer Olympics online

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will run from Friday, August 5 to Sunday, August 21. Of course, the Olympics does have its problems, both the usual ones (corruption concerns, etc.), and ones unique to each location. Still, I usually watch the games; my favorite events include soccer, track and field, tennis, boxing, martial arts, and basketball.

Below, I’ll discuss ways to watch this year’s games.

NBC

Site: www.nbcolympics.com

NBC, of course, has an exclusive lock on the rights to broadcasting the games in the United States. Their coverage is also infamous for being mediocre at best and awful/jingoistic at worst, leading to a biannual barrage of complaints online. Things have somewhat improved on the TV side in recent years, thanks to NBC making use of its cable TV channels (CNBC, USA, etc.) for live coverage.

NBC plans to stream the entirety of the games online live, except for the opening ceremony, which will only be on TV, and tape-delayed. (NBC claims they want to put the opening in “context.”) Rio is an hour ahead of the Eastern Time Zone, but NBC wants to maximize TV ratings and ad revenue. NBC’s 2014 streaming coverage was a mix of NBC coverage and the generic Olympics TV coverage feed, the latter without any announcers or commentary. I expect a similar coverage technique for this year’s games. While no commentary might be awkward sometimes, NBC’s streaming coverage was otherwise fine.

Streaming coverage is available at NBCOlympics.com, plus through the NBC Sports app on iOS, Android, and streaming devices. Unfortunately, it’s only available for those with cable TV subscriptions, as authentication’s required. Cord-cutters as usual either have to settle for NBC’s broadcast TV coverage or find other solutions (such as the ones I list below). Finally, NBC’s streaming coverage is region-blocked for anyone other than those in the US.

CBC

Site: www.cbc.ca/sports/olympics

CBC plans to cover the entire games, including the opening ceremony, live on CBC itself, as well as on various Canadian cable TV networks and online. For those like me who live in a city along the US/Canadian border (Seattle, Detroit, Buffalo, etc.), CBC’s TV coverage is often favored over NBC’s, even if there’s a Canadian focus. CBC’s streaming coverage is region-blocked for anyone other than those in Canada.

BBC

Site: www.bbc.com/sport/olympics/rio-2016

BBC plans to cover the entire games, including the opening ceremony, live on TV and online. BBC’s streaming coverage is region-blocked for anyone other than those in the United Kingdom.

Sling TV

Site: www.sling.com

Sling TV’s become a popular option for cord-cutters in the US, as it offers a package of various cable TV channels for streaming. Sling TV’s “Blue” package (for $25/mo.) provides NBCSN, USA, and Bravo, three of the NBC-related cable channels that’re providing extra Olympics coverage. (NBC itself is offered for streaming in a select few US cities.) Another $5 gives you the Golf Channel package add-on for Olympic golf coverage. MSNBC and CNBC are also being provided by Sling for free as a preview during the duration of the games (it’d normally be an extra $5 add-on).

On top of this, Sling TV offers a seven-day free trial; service can be cancelled anytime, as well.

PlayStation Vue

Site: www.playstation.com/en-us/network/vue

Similar to Sling TV, PlayStation Vue offers a similar package of streaming cable channels for cord-cutters, including all of the NBC family of channels carrying the Olympics. While it costs about the same as Sling TV, the advantage is that one’s Vue credentials can be used to authenticate on NBC’s website, just like cable TV customers. Those wanting the full access of NBC’s coverage, including its online streaming, might be interested in giving Vue a go.

VPNs

There are those who will want to see the opening ceremonies live without being “put in context” by NBC, or just want to avoid NBC’s coverage altogether (and I don’t blame them). For all of these individuals, the use of a VPN (virtual private network) allows one to watch other countries’ coverage (such as the BBC or CBC for Americans). One proxy service that’s easy to use is TunnelBear. It also works on a variety of platforms, including Linux (via Chrome extension), and the choice of various countries, including Canada and the UK.

When I used it in 2014, speed was so-so, as running video through a VPN can cause such slowdowns. Of course, the Olympics are also a popular event to stream, which can put strain on things. While TunnelBear has a free tier, those wanting to stream the Olympics will likely want the $8/month paid tier, which offers unlimited bandwidth. (The free tier offers 500MB of bandwidth, though an extra 1GB is available via a Twitter offer.)

Linux users

I wrote in a previous Olympics post about how to make sure Linux installations meet Flash’s DRM requirements for streaming the Olympics. While things have changed over the years for streaming, Flash is still required to watch NBC’s coverage. I’d advise Linux users to:

  • Install Google’s Chrome browser, which has modern Flash support built-in (support’s otherwise largely abandoned/iffy on Linux), and
  • Make sure the HAL module for Flash’s DRM support is installed. For Ubuntu users (and its variants), current instructions are available here.

(Updated 7/31/16)

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