On Friday I watched my first Olympic opening ceremony while streaming from an app on my smartphone.
Just before the pandemic, I cut the cord after 10 years as a loyal cable subscriber. Now I watch TV through an intricate balance between the streaming apps on my Apple TV (including Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV+) and iPhone 8 (like YouTube, HBO Max, and others that I connect to the big screen through a Bluetooth connection).
I had never watched the Olympic Games in a streaming format, but over a year after going all in on streaming I had to figure out how to watch an important publicly televised event over the course of 17 days. I also wanted to watch without any additional costs to my post-cable, streaming set-up.
I didn’t want to go back to my cable-dependent ways just to watch the delayed 2021 event, which is happening in Tokyo. I also didn’t want to fork over up to $65 for a full-package streaming service like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV.
But as my Mashable colleague Alex Perry already explained, watching the Olympics for free is nearly impossible. I downloaded the NBC Sports app, but without a cable login I only could get 30 minutes of free viewing. There’s NBC’s new streaming service Peacock with free viewing for gymnastics and track-and-field events, but that’s it.
Unless I was going to attempt to set up a TV antennae to watch my local NBC affiliate on the broadcast channel, cutting the cord was going to be expensive to catch the debut of surfing, random badminton matches, and fencing tournaments.
I suddenly realized my cord-cutting wasn’t going to cut it.
So I cheated. My parents still pay for cable access. My mom generously shared her login credentials with me so I could tap into the NBC apps through her account. Thanks, mom!
Then it was only a matter of mirroring my phone onto the Apple TV screen and I was watching the mostly empty stadium fill with mask-covered athletes. Distracted by the pageantry of the pandemic-delayed opening event, I pushed aside the nagging thought that the cable-free, internet-based TV experience is still a mess. At least when it comes to major TV events.
Watching Olympic fencing on the NBC Sports app.
Credit: SCREENSHOT: nbc SPORTS
It takes a live, time-dependent multi-day event like the Olympics to show how much we still rely on traditional viewing methods. Without cable or “traditional TV” I couldn’t just turn on the screen and watch whatever was on the channels with dedicated Olympics coverage.
When I watch Netflix with its monthly subscription fee, everything on the platform is pre-loaded and available on demand. But that doesn’t work for the Summer Games, which are exclusively broadcast through the NBC network. NBC might offer streaming options, but it will always be first and foremost a traditional broadcast network based around live television.
Even to access content on the NBC Sports app and website you need a cable TV subscription. There’s no way around it.
So while my Olympic viewing experience ultimately went smoothly on the app, it still relied on a traditional cable subscription. I can talk about cutting the cord, but I’m still hanging on until the closing ceremony on Aug. 8.