NBC’s online stream of the 2014 Sochi Olympics: The Good, the Bad, and the Confusing

I have Olympic fever. I have chained myself to my couch and I plan to watch as many events as possible. NBC has been talking a pretty big game about how every event will be live streamed online and via their Live Extra mobile app. Ryan Seacrest told me it was going to be pretty awesome. 

The Good:

It started off kinda awesome. I downloaded the NBC Olympics app from the iTunes store and looked at the schedule of live events. When I clicked on an event to view it, it directed me back to the app store and had me download the Live Extra app. That’s a weird, unnecessary step, but whatever, I had the Live Extra app now. I entered my cable subscriber information and I was presented with multiple live options for live events. I was streaming the men’s luge from my bed. I could pretty much stay in bed for the entire duration of the Olympics. That is pretty nice.

nbc-olympics-live-extra-app

iPad screenshot of NBC’s Live Extra app

I don’t love seeing that banner ad on the bottom of the screen, but I know my accidental thumb taps will result in some sweet NBC cash. I’d rather they advertised to me during commercial breaks, rather than present me with a cold, silent “Coverage will begin momentarily” message that seems to pop up unexpectedly, without any sort of transition from the live action, and usually lasting about 4 seconds.

If you are a cable subscriber with access to a smartphone or tablet, and you are cool with watching full coverage of the 2014 Sochi Olympics on a small screen, that is definitely the way to go.

The Bad:

Take a look at NBC Olympics’ Facebook page and you’ll notice right away that the biggest complaint (outside of Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira talking over the entirety of the opening ceremonies and “Why are you playing a soccer game right now?”) is that American citizens have to pay for a cable or satellite TV subscription in order to view this world-wide event that is free in other countries, including  our friendly neighbors to the north who are providing free streams of all events on CBC. Unfortunately, if you’re reading this from the US, you won’t be able to view those videos (unless you have a handy browser plugin). Even with that plugin, users are reporting low quality streaming. Many cordcutters are willing to pay to stream the Olympics, but feel it’s ridiculous to require a full-on cable subscription in order access the games. That brings us back to our mobile devices or NBCOlympics.com.

The Confusing:

NBC states on the following on their NBCOlympics.com help page:

WHAT IS NBC OLYMPICS LIVE EXTRA?
NBC OLYMPICS LIVE EXTRA is the sign-in process that will allow you to gain access to select U.S. Olympic Trials and 1,000+ hours of live coverage and full-event replays of the 2014 Olympics. It is available exclusively online at NBCOlympics.com and via the NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA APP.

The emphasis in that quote is mine. While all of the events may in fact be replay-able from NBCOlympics.com via a web browser, it is near impossible to find a schedule that mirrors the schedule on the Live Extra mobile app.

nbc olympics website screenshot

First of all, you can see from the screen shot above that there is no clear “Watch Live Now!” link anywhere on that page. There’s a “Watch Video” link, which is where you think all of the live events would be listed (similar to the Live Extra app), but it just shows you a couple videos that are available for replay.  The links on that page seem to keep changing. Right now it is pointing to a “Watch Full Replays: Saturday Feb. 8” page, which while uglier than the Live Extra app, seems to be the place to go to catch up on all the events (just try to avoid all the spoiler headlines on the site).

If you can get to that “Watch Full Replays” page, I would recommend staying there. That’s as easy as it’s going to get, and if you try to click around NBCOlympics.com too much, it will probably log you out and tell you that your cable provider does not allow access to this content (even though you were just logged in.) When you are finally able to log in, it forces you to watch a video of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics hockey game between the US and Canada. If you try to watch any other videos, chances are you’ll be told your cable provider doesn’t allow access to that content again. It’s pretty buggy, but it’s day one. I’m sure by next week either NBC will have it figured out, or I’ll just get really adept at navigating this log in-log out loop. Most likely I will probably just hang on the “Watch Full Replays” page and try not to click around too much.

This is an issue for me because I have a Mac Mini hooked up to my TV. When I heard that NBC was live streaming all of the Olympic events on NBCOlympics.com I thought I had it made. Now that I’ve found the full replays page I can watch the events on demand, but I have a feeling (as the “Watch Full Replays” page is specifically for today and not a dynamic schedule that will update throughout the entirety of the games) that tomorrow I will be lost again, trying to find a comprehensive schedule of live and replay events. I asked for some guidance on NBC Olympics’ Facebook and Twitter pages, but received no reply. I realize most of these events will be broadcast live in the early AM while I am sleeping, but it would be really handy if there was a shiny link at the top of NBCOlympics.com telling me where I could go to catch up.

There are a lot of opportunities for NBC to add features that would make for a more user-friendly experience besides making it immediately clear what page to visit for live events. There’s a thick blue bar that takes up extra space on top of the video player, there aren’t enough indicators telling you who is currently competing or what round they’re in, and again those unexpected “coverage will begin momentarily” time outs are extremely jarring.  You also can’t skip ahead in the replay videos, so I hope you enjoy watching a zamboni circle an ice rink while people head to the rest rooms between events. All that aside, I will continue to fight my way through NBCOnline.com in order to catch as much of the Olympics as possible.

Or, more likely I will just stay in bed for the next few weeks watching on my iPad.

Go Team USA!