Well, the Olympics. This year’s London games have been obsessed over because … NBC refuses to show most of the action live on television. This, in turn, has led to gatrillions of people complaining about getting results before visuals, thus spoiling outcomes of the more dramatic competitions for those who either aren’t in London or don’t have access to the Internet (yes, those people do exist).
Me? Frankly, I’ve been a bit annoyed with the way I’ve noticed people flocking to the Olympic games this year. It’s like … really? You mean to tell me you are fascinated by speed walking? Or, now, all of a sudden you have some deep-rooted interest in the way a gymnast lands a dismount? Honestly? Do we really believe that you know how to properly score a floor routine? And why, all of a sudden, is archery more popular than the Super Bowl? Stop it, people. Quit pretending this stuff is fascinating only because it comes around once every four years. You know what else comes around every four years? A light winter. Presidential elections. Or measles. Settle down. The world will continue to spin, even if Michael Phelps doesn’t set 59 world records or Jordyn Wieber can’t manage to win a gold medal in an individual event.
But I digress. The real story, to me (or, well, to the TV Without A TV blog, mind you) is this constant outcry for NBC to stop being the mother who won’t let us eat sweets until after dinner. Enter the BBC, who has become the go-to source for live coverage of Olympic events. From Ty Duffy at The Big Lead …
“British viewers can watch every event live on the screen of their choice,” he wrote this morning.“American viewers, wishing to watch high-profile events live, must resort to illicit British or Canadian streams, as the NBC ones are non-functional. That’s not even addressing the difference in programming quality, providing comprehensive coverage rather than spoon-fed, jingoistic crap. #NBCFail is not a problem that started on Twitter. It is a problem that is vented about on Twitter.”
To recap: The BBC = good. NBC = bad. Eric Pfanner, of The New York Times, broke it down even more yesterday.
“… BBC is providing marathon coverage — 2,500 hours of programming during the more than two weeks of the Games,” he wrote. “At the touch of a button on their remote controls, viewers can choose among as many as 24 live feeds of various events, whether basketball or fencing. … This time, BBC and NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, are testing a new technology — so-called Super Hi-Vision television, which they describe as providing 16 times the resolution of conventional high-definition television. Super Hi-Vision is not available in homes yet and may not be until 2020 or so, executives say. But the technology is being used for a number of events with closed-circuit broadcasts on giant screens in London and Bradford, England; Glasgow; and Tokyo and Fukushima in Japan. A feed has also been provided to NBC for a screen in Washington. ‘It’s better than 3-D,’ Roger Mosey, director of BBC’s Olympics coverage, said. ‘It’s like looking through a glass window at an event.'”
That’s all well and good, but what about the United States, the disembodied voice asks. Good question.
As Yahoo pointed out on Friday, the BBC has its coverage geo-blocked, meaning you can’t view the feed outside of the country … unless if you do so illegally, of course, which is a hurdle that is pretty much at the crux of most live streams these days, anyway. But outside of pixelated screen shots and millions of pop-up ads, is watching the stream even possible, the voice then contends. Why, yes it is, disembodied voice! And I’m glad you asked.
It all involves two things: virtual private networks and IP addresses, something many of you may be a bit weary about messing with (and rightfully so). We’ll begin with the VPNs, which were noted in the aforementioned Yahoo piece when a system administrator in Minnesota set up two of them to bypass NBC’s coverage …
“Jenson, a Linux system administrator in Minneapolis, set up two virtual private networks (VPN) to bypass NBC’s broadcast, one on her home media server and the other on her iPad, tethered to a 4G hotspot, so she can watch at work,” Alice Truong wrote. “Jenson’s VPN masks the location of her computer and iPad, making it appear as if she were logging online from outside the U.S.”
Her preferred go-to stream? The BBC, of course. One other thing of note: As you’ll see if you click on the link below, VPNs, while safe and fairly easy to set up, also can cost a few bucks. That sound I hear is the culmination of sighs as you read this paragraph.
Now to the IP proxy that I’d suggest most of you stay away from, should you actually want to take to the Interwebs to try and watch the games. Why is that? From Bill Chappell at NPR …
“Others are downloading apps for their web browser, punching in a British server’s address, and pointing it at the website of an official Olympic channel that’s not NBC — often, the BBC. Canada’s CTV is another option; both offer a wealth of free, live video. Such extensions are readily available for two of the most popular browsers: Chrome and Firefox,” he wrote. “To test this out, I tried Foxy Proxy, which some 457,000 raters have collectively given 4 stars. That, for me, clears the ‘wisdom of crowds’ bar. It was quick to download. Then I restarted Firefox — which now had a little icon to the right of my browser’s URL address window. I was already halfway done. Then I had to find a proxy address — which looks a bit like a long phone number, with its four groups of digits separated by periods. It is followed by the port number, which is usually 2-4 digits. And that’s where the risk comes in. Using a proxy address instead of your real address presents a threat. It’s as if you’re having your mail sent to a different address, and then forwarded to your actual home. It is definitively NOT secure.”
It’s a thunderstorm of sighs, I now hear.
OK. That was a lot. Take a breath.
Are you back? Good.
The above work-arounds, of course, can all be avoided by searching for bootlegged streams that come from sites like Firstrowsports.eu or Ustream or any of the other live streaming sites with which you may already be acquainted. Or, well, you could rely solely on the NBC app. And naturally, if all else fails, you could sit around all day until NBC packages it together for its super-spectacular prime time program (if this is the option you choose, you could also both rub two sticks together for fire and send something called a “letter” to someone you love after you get done watching 24-year-old Bob Costas).
Either way, the most important facet of all this is the following: Boy, the 2012 world is wayyyyyy different than the 2004 or 2008 world. That said, what do networks do now? By the time this event comes around again, it would be utterly idiotic to assume that NBC won’t have this problem figured out. Sure, the suits there constantly reiterate that they are doing the right thing, and “not everybody gets what they want” (which, by the way, was one of the all-time most laughable things I’ve ever heard said from someone who makes more money in one year than I will in a lifetime). But noticing exactly how impatient the masses have become in the four years since the last Olympic games were held — and exactly how vocal they’ve been in criticizing basically everyone who owns a shirt with a peacock on it over the past 10 days — only reasserts the notion that the way we view television content is changing rapidly, not only by the year or month, but even by the day or week.
Starting next week, you have four years to somehow get this right, NBC. If you don’t, something called Record TV might see outrageous boosts in ratings, come 2016.