NBC goes for the gold with cable, online Olympic options

It’s time again to adorn your country’s colors and root on your favorite athletes, as the Summer Olympics—arguably, the biggest event in the world—has made it biennial return and kicks off in London Friday. (Note that some soccer matches begin on Wednesday, however.) The Summer Olympics is considerably larger than its winter counterpart, and more countries and more events not only mean more media attention, also but more options for viewers who can’t experience the thrill of competition in person.

Some 4 billion people (by one, possibly overreaching, estimate) will tune in for some portion of Friday’s Opening Ceremonies, being handled by Danny Boyle, the Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire. From that point, you’ve got 17 days of events to watch and there are numerous ways to get your Olympic fix, whether you’re at home, away from your TV, or out and about.

Thinking ambitiously has never been an issue for Olympic broadcasters in the past, and NBCUniversal (purchased by Comcast in 2011 for more than $13 billion) will use its full arsenal of channels, as well as NBCOlympics.com, to air a combined and unprecedented 5535 hours of coverage in the U.S.. (That bests its Beijing coverage by nearly 2000 hours.) In short, there should only be few hours in the day during which Olympic programming isn’t airing on some NBC-owned channel on your TV lineup.

NBC proper, which is scheduled to run a broadcast network-record 273 hours, will air a nightly primetime program with highlights from that day’s event schedule. You can expect recaps from all the big events here, including men’s and women’s gymnastics, track and field, swimming, basketball, and a healthy roundup of noteworthy moments from other disciplines. From there, the focus shifts to NBCUniversal’s extensive array of cable channels. And if you’re looking for live event coverage, cable is where you’ll need to go.

NBC Sports Network—formerly known as Versus—has almost 293 hours planned, averaging more than 14 hours of coverage a day of events from 22 different sports, including basketball, women’s soccer, and field hockey. CNBC will eschew much of its usual finance-focused programming and feature 73 hours of Olympic boxing spread out over 16 days. MSNBC, normally so dependent on politics, will stray from the campaign trail during the daytime and carry more than 155 hours of coverage from a range of sports. Bravo will be the home of Olympic tennis, 56 hours worth from July 28 to August 3. And Telemundo will also offer some 173 hours of Spanish-language programming, anchored by legendary soccer announcer Andrés Cantor. (Even if you don’t know the name, you’ve probably heard his voice.)

One potentially interesting side note is that if you’ve got a 3D-enabled set, Panasonic has partnered with NBC to offer more than 240 hours of three-dimensional programming, shown on next-day delay and available to some 80 percent of cable and satellite subscribers in the country. It’s the first time any part of the Olympics will be broadcast in 3D, and gymnastics, swimming and diving, cycling, and track and field will all be featured here, With the next-day delay, however, it’ll likely act more as a novelty than an integrated part of viewers’ usual schedule.

NBCUniversal is bringing live streaming to both the Web and mobile devices for this year’s Summer Olympics from London.

Online is where NBC is really upping the ante this time around. NBCOlympics.com will air more than 3500 hours of programming, and that includes all 302 medal ceremonies, available free and live, so long as you have access to a computer—sort of. You also have to be a registered cable customer with some known provider. (Technically speaking, if you’re a cable customer who receives CNBC and MSNBC, you qualify.) If you’re a customer of one of 15 major cable and satellite providers—Comcast Xfinity, DirecTV, Time Warner, Dish Network, Verizon, Cox, Charter, AT&T U-Verse, Cablevision Optimum, Insight, SuddenLink, Mediacom, CableOne, Wow, or Bright House—all you need to do is log in through NBCOlympics.com with your account credentials. (An added bonus for Xfinity and Optimum customers: Log in from your home computer and you’ll be automatically detected and verified.) If you don’t have one of those but are a cable customer of one of about 140 other companies, then you’ll likely be asked to click through to a page where you have to enter your log-in for something called WatchTVEverywhere.com, a third-party service that (provided you can set up an account with it) should get you full access to NBC’s online streams. It’s a potentially frustrating workaround, so make sure you can access it before the Olympics start.

That same verification process applies for NBC’s Adobe-powered Live Extra app for iOS and Android, which will live stream more than 3500 hours of coverage to mobile users. Just log in, either with your cable or company or WatchTVEverywhere account, and you’re ready to roll. There will be times when NBC is live-streaming as many as 40 events at the same time, so familiarizing yourself with the app before the Games get to their busiest point would be a smart play. The good news is that NBC’s apps and website will stream an average of 291 hours every day, so there should always be something worth watching. Also, don’t confuse this app with NBC’s other official iOS and Android offering—NBC Olympics—which is more geared toward news and highlights rather than full-fledged video streaming.

The biggest issue, no matter where you live in the U.S. or who your cable provider is, will be keeping tabs on the time difference and how that affects your live viewing schedule. London is five hours ahead of the East Coast, and eight hours ahead of the West Coast. Generally speaking, many of the marquee Olympic events will be held in the afternoon local time. That means New Yorkers looking for live coverage will want to tune in mid-morning, while San Franciscans may need to set their alarms a tad earlier than usual.

Another caveat for those who miss events live: NBC will offer archived replays immediately online for most sports, but when it comes to an event that the network wants to feature on its nightly highlight show, those won’t be available online until after the West Coast airing is complete.

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