Five-ring Circus

How to Watch the Winter Olympics If You Don’t Have Cable

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 03:  (L-R) Primtetime Host Mike Tirico, President, NBC Olympics Production and Programming, Jim Bell, and Short Track Speed Skating Analyst Apolo Ohno of ''The Winter Olympics' panel speak onstage during the NBCUniversal portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 3, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Primtetime Host Mike Tirico, President, NBC Olympics Production and Programming, Jim Bell, and Short Track Speed Skating Analyst Apolo Ohno of ”The Winter Olympics’ panel speak onstage during the NBCUniversal portion of the 2017 Summer Television Critics Association Press Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 3, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

For the past several years, media companies have faced a dilemma when it comes to broadcasting big live events such as the Oscars, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics. Should they stream their coverage live, for free, on the web, to maximize the audience for their advertisements? Or should they limit live-streaming to people who are already paying for cable TV, thus punishing cord-cutters who undermine the lucrative cable subscription model?

Thankfully, the choice is no longer quite so stark. The rise of paid online streaming services with live-TV features has created an attractive middle path—and NBC is taking full advantage of that in its approach to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

First, the bad news for cord-cutters: NBC will not allow you to stream the games for free online if you don’t have some kind of pay-TV login. That’s a change from its approach to Super Bowl LII, which it broadcast for free at NBCSports.com, as well as via the NBC Sports app. If you don’t want to pay anything, your options are to watch the main NBC primetime broadcast via an antenna on your TV set, or to settle for a one-time, 30-minute free preview online, plus an additional five free minutes per day.

The good news is, you don’t have to subscribe to a pricey conventional cable package to watch the coverage on NBC and its various sister channels, including NBCSN, USA, CNBC, and the Olympic Channel—nor to get full access to NBC’s live online coverage, which includes every event.

Instead, you can watch on any of a number of paid streaming TV services, most of which cost far less than cable, and several of which come with a free trial period. Options include Sling TV (the pioneer in paid cable streaming), DirecTVNow, YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, Playstation Vue, and FuboTV, among others. They vary in price, channel offerings, terms of service, and availability, so if you don’t already have one of these, you’ll have to do some research. (USA Today has a solid breakdown of the most popular options.)

The simple story is that any paid TV service that includes NBC will also allow you to access the NBC Sports app and NBCOlympics.com, where you can watch all the live coverage. (The NBC Sports app is available on a wide range of platforms, including Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, Samsung TV, Windows 10, and Xbox One. And, of course, NBCOlympics.com is available on the web.)

NBC’s Olympics coverage started late Wednesday night, Feb. 7, and continues through the closing ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 25. Notably, the online offerings include live coverage of events the NBC broadcast network will air only on tape-delay. For instance, NBC will broadcast the opening ceremony at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 9—14 hours after it actually happens. But you can watch it live online at 6 a.m. ET, albeit with “natural sound only”—i.e., sans commentary. That’s still a big improvement over recent Olympics, in which NBC has declined to let people watch the opening ceremony live.

A world in which major live events were streamed for free online to all would be nice. But failing that, a world in which you have a large menu of options for paid, live, streaming TV—many of them far cheaper than cable—is not a bad compromise.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Pyeongchang Olympics.

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