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August 6, 2008 1:06 PM

Some can't get access to live Olympic video, replays on

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


Not everyone can get all live video and replays NBC is putting online from the Olympics.

I wrote today about NBC's unprecedented online video presentation of the Olympics and its partnership with Microsoft. But it turns out not everyone gets to see the best features of the service, including live video, long-form event replays and NBC encore video.

People who don't have a television, tune in an over-the-air broadcast or subscribe to a cable provider that's not one of NBC's "distribution partners" are left out in the cold. NBC said this is a small slice of the U.S. audience, less than 10 percent by its own reckoning.

One of those is Paul Drahn, who lives in Crooked River Ranch, a community about 15 miles outside of the other Redmond in Central Oregon.

"I thought this would be great for my wife to watch a bunch of the Olympics on the Internet," Drahn said in an e-mail. "We don't have TV by choice. When all was downloaded and ready to go, I had to enter my zip code, no big deal, and my TV service provider. There is no choice for none of the above!"

Drahn was filling out the short "get local" form that first-time visitors to are prompted to complete. If you haven't done so when you first visit the page, you will be prompted when you try to view a video, such as the full replay of Norway's 2-0 rout of the U.S. in women's soccer.

The information helps populate the TV and online schedule tab at with a programming guide specific to your market. But it also determines whether you are a customer of one of NBCOlympics' cable and satellite distribution partners.

Drahn tried selecting the local cable company that provides access at his electronics assembly business, BendBroadband, but it's apparently not among the partners.

For those who are not customers of NBCOlympics distribution providers, the system denies access to the cream of the online presentation: live video and full-length replays of events that will take place in China while most of America is sleeping.

It's spelled out in NBC's Terms and Conditions of service, and distilled in a brief FAQ:

Q: What if the television service provider that I choose is not part of NBC's Olympic premium online video partnership?

A: While more than 90% of all markets in the U.S. are partnered with NBC in this premium program, some providers have not partnered with NBC. If you're a subscriber in that market, you will not be able to watch LIVE, long form replays and NBC encore video: Please contact your local TV service provider with questions.

Q: Will I be able to watch any video?

A: Absolutely: You will still have access to hundreds of hours of Olympic highlights, athlete interviews and feature stories -- plus by entering your ZIP code, you will get up-to-the-minute TV listings for your home market."

It's not hard to circumvent this barrier by simply picking from among the NBC partners when prompted.

But why did NBC put it up in the first place?

NBC made the premium package available to every cable, satellite and broadband provider in the country, said Greg Hughes, spokesman for NBC Sports. Not all of them chose to take it, but most did.

"There are limitations to everything that you do and you do them for business reasons and you don't want people to fall through the cracks, but you can't make everything available to everybody at all times," he said. "... What we're doing is a, maximizing our rights for the Olympics and b, maximizing the exposure where we can, but there are parts of this that are out of our control, certainly."

It is a small group who will be without access -- even smaller considering it's so easy to circumvent the restriction. There are people who don't have adequate Internet access, dial-up customers for example.

Said Hughes:

"These things are not draconian. It would be different if there were five percent of the country that could see it. But this is far and away the most exposed Olympic games in the history of our country. No Olympic games before this comes close. It's a little bit on the nit-picky side to say, 'Yeah, but... .' It was zero percent in 2006 and zero percent in 2004, now we're at 90 percent, but we're like 'Yeah, but 10 percent still can't.'...

"It's sort of a perspective thing... . The larger sect of society is getting more than ever before, just how they want it, in a varity of ways that they want it, whether it's on NBC over the air, whether it's in HD, and it's on cable, and it's online and it's on mobile, if you have the right phone setup."

Still, the restriction could disappoint those who imagine a time when a television and cable subscription won't be necessary to get the best video of the biggest events, and saw NBC's Olympics presentation as a big move toward that vision. Hughes doesn't see that happening in the near future.

"This is a huge step in that evolution, but I would also say that even as it evolves, over-the-air television is going to remain the primary delivery system for big events for a long time to come. And those people who want to watch online only and not have a TV, they're not going to see Michael Phelps swimming live. ... Ultimately the delivery systems are designed to maximize an investment in a product. As of now, those delivery systems don't maximize your revenue."

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Posted by James

6:41 AM, Aug 08, 2008

Well, as one of the affected 10%, WHO LIVES IN AN URBAN AREA, NO LESS, I have to say NBC SUCKS.

And I ran across another limitation you didn't mention:

If you decide to try and select another Zipcode and/or Provider, you get about 6 chances to make it work. Then the system locks your PC out of the system for TWENTY FOUR HOURS.

Did I mention that NBC and Dick Enersol SUCK?

I will NEVER watch anything on NBC again as long as I Live.

Posted by Michelle

10:28 AM, Aug 08, 2008

I think the number of households with only broadcast television is not 10%, but is closer to 18%. This number was from a research paper, although it is a few years old. I don't imagine it has been reduced by nearly half. I think NBC must be using 10% as a number of 'those households without cable who would be likely to watch the Olympics'.

As one of the 18%, I would PAY for the access to the videos. This has been done before with pay-per-view access -- hasn't it? I'm sure for-fee internet access would be more successful than pay-per-view television which is tied to a broadcast schedule.

Also, I also wonder of the % of households which are affected, are they disproportionately lower income and therefore not of interest to advertisers? Sorry -- but I can't imagine that NBC has this requirement unless they feel there is no money to be made by making the coverage available to this part of the population.

Posted by Roger

10:09 PM, Aug 08, 2008

You must have the latest, greatest MacroSloth OS to get the online video. A pox on the houses of NBC and MS!

Posted by Give it a try!

11:47 AM, Aug 09, 2008

If anyone find a serivce provider and zipcode combo that works you should post it so we can all take a look and try to get access. I'm not sure if that will work but why not try!!

Posted by John Bailo

11:48 AM, Aug 09, 2008

Well, it looks like anyone can just pick their zip code and Comcast Cable to "spoof" the site (not that I personally would ever do that!).

This morning I watched the live feed of women's handball (Romania-Kazakhstan). Was interesting..had never seen the Olympic version of the sport before.

I run a nvidia 8800GT card and Acer 22w monitor with a Clearwire Wimax connection. Saturday mornings are low congestion times for Clearwire and me. If I use the "enhanced" screen it covers about two thirds of my LCD. I didn't see a way to go full screen.

There was a little staggering at the beginning when they were announcing the players..."Number 23....wait...buffering....Number 47....buffering" but not during the game play. I don't know what Kbps they stream at, but it's definitely low quality on my rig. Still, like the dog that walks on its hind's amazing that it can be done at all.

Posted by John

6:58 PM, Aug 09, 2008

This isn't Draconian. Draconian is only being able to get satellite service. Then you are denied things like the opening FREAKING CEREMONY which wasnt even shown on their site.

The replays are nigh impossible to access (if they even exist, ive been trying to find the gymnastics stuff) and with no commentary, the uninformed and uneducated do not know what the heck is going on.

Having no access to NBC while you're paying 80 bucks a month for TV is Draconian.

Posted by Scunnerous

4:11 AM, Aug 10, 2008

Mr. Hughes would be just a tad more credible if he had talked $$: how much does NBC charge a TV Service Provider for carrying his precious content, how much storage is the provider supposed to uhh, provide to buffer the content and how much is the customer supposed to be charged extra over the normal monthly bill?

With the barrage of NBC originated advertising and with this aggravating situation there's only one thing to do: cheat. My advice, and what works so far, is to choose a satellite service and take whatever location it suggests and it should work - at least it does for me.

Uhh, thanks NBC!

Posted by

11:34 AM, Aug 10, 2008

try your zipcode with direct tv...worked for me

Posted by joe blow

1:49 PM, Aug 10, 2008

does anyone have a zip code and cable provider combination that works? i must be the 'less than 10%' that fell through the cracks.

Posted by satellite

6:35 AM, Aug 11, 2008

Seriously? Dude, pick any satellite provider (i.e. Dish Network or DirecTV) and any zip code.

Use your brain.

Posted by James

6:57 AM, Aug 11, 2008

Oh, and one other thing:

Even if you're in the right zip code and have the right broadcaster, you're still SOL if you aren't running Windows Vista or Mac OS X.

XP and Linux users need not apply. All you'll get are clips of events that have already happened and athlete profiles.

Posted by Gerry

1:01 PM, Aug 11, 2008

Seems like it's far more that 10%. I've got wavecable in kitsap, and it too won't work. Now, I hate wavecable, and would glady like another provider, except that's my only option in this area...

So here I am, shutout, because of a legal cable monoploy.

Posted by Jean

7:27 PM, Aug 14, 2008

Noticed James's comment about having to run Mac OS X, which was going to be my comment. Not only that, even if you DO run Mac OS X, your Mac has to have an Intel processor. Thanks SO MUCH, NBC. You're despicable, but what did I expect? NBC stands for National BULLSH_T Corporation in my view.

Posted by Seizhin

8:34 AM, Aug 17, 2008

Very disappointed to not be able to see the videos because I'm currently outside the US.

NBC's restriction is very much too disappointing for Americans who are presently working outside the country.

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