Home & Office

​How to watch the Rio Olympics on the internet

More of the Olympics will be available online than over conventional TV. Here's how to watch it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

You know cord-cutting has caught on when NBC will be showing about 4,500 hours of Olympic coverage over various streaming services, but only 260 hours over the air. But don't get too excited. For cord-cutters, accessing your favorite Olympic sports isn't as easy as NBC would have you believe.

BBC Rio Olympics Coverage

There's more than one way to watch 2016's Rio Olympics, and some of them don't involve watching it via any NBC network.

Before diving into that, let's go into the basics. NBC will be showing Olympic sports over the following networks: NBC, Telemundo, Bravo, CNBC, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network - NBCSN, NBC UNIVERSO, and USA Network. Over-the-air coverage begins on Friday, August 5, and concludes on Sunday, August 21, with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. This coverage is a "best of" show. It airs from 8 p.m. to midnight ET/PT; daytime from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET/PT; late night from 12:35 a.m. to 1:35 a.m. ET/PT; and replays from 1:35 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. ET/PT. It features time-delayed many of the Games' most popular sports, such as gymnastics, track and field, swimming and the men's and women's basketball finals.

What's showing where and when? To keep track of everything from archery to wrestling see the NBC Olympics Live Stream Schedule.

To watch these sports over the internet, you can either view them from the NBC Olympics site or use the NBC Sports app. This app works on most mobile devices including Android, iPhone and Windows Phone smartphones and tablets.

The problem with these is they only work if you're already paying for a cable or satellite subscription. This defeats the whole point of cord-cutting. Of course, you could borrow a friend's credentials to access them, but that would be wrong.

A cheaper way to watch the Olympics without subscribing to conventional TV services is to use either the Sling TV or Playstation Vue Internet TV networks.

Of the two, I prefer Sling TV. While the service had latency problems when it first came out, it's done well for me over the last few months.

To watch the Olympics, you will need the Sling TV Blue service for $25 a month. This enables you to watch sports on NBCSN, USA Network, and Bravo. For the Olympics, Sling TV Blue will also be packaging CNBC and MSNBC. Usually, these are part of the $5 World News Extra package.

If you think golf at the Olympics is worth watching, the Sports Extra package for another $5 will give you the Golf Channel. In some cities -- Chicago, Dallas, Hartford, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, and Washington, DC -- you can also watch your local NBC affiliate.

It's also worth noting that if you're not already a subscriber, you can create a Sling TV account with a seven-day free trial.

PlayStation Vue offers similar services. Don't let the name fool you, you don't need a PlayStation to watch this internet video network. It also works on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Google Chromecast.

Unlike Sling TV, to watch the Olympics on it you don't need to buy a particular package. Instead, first you need to get a free Playstation Network account. Then, choose the lowest service tier, Access. With this, the $40 a month Vue service acts asa cable provider. You won't see it on NBC's main provider list, but click on "See a full list of providers" and you'll find PlayStation Vue. Once set up, you'll be able to watch sports using both NBC's Olympic website and app.

Notice something? It's pretty much impossible to watch the Olympics online without dealing with some kind of paywall. There is another way: Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

This is a legally gray area, but with a VPN you can watch "free" internet video coverage from numerous countries. The most useful for English-speaking Americans are Canada's CBC and the UK's BBC. To watch their coverage of the Olympics you'll need a VPN with a presence in that country. Some better VPNs for this purpose are ExpressVPN, TunnelBear, VyperVPN, and ZenMate. Another plus with watching international Olympics broadcasts is that, unlike NBC, they don't time-delay the broadcasts.

So, ready to go? Well, before you start your "USA! USA!" chant in your living room, you should know I've been checking all these sites and services. They're all overloaded. From NBC's main site to the most obscure service I've been finding delays, latency that made sports hard to watch, and out-right site failures.

Like the Rio Olympcs themselves, watching the Olympics online looks like it's going to have more than its fair share of problems.

Related Stories:

Editorial standards