Review: NBC Olympics Online Deserves Silver Medal
NBC comes close to gold in delivering the Winter Olympics online from Sochi, Russia.
Although NBC has scaled back on a few fronts compared with previous years -and still refuses to show the opening ceremonies live- things have improved considerably since 2000, when online "video" meant still images grabbed from NBC’s video feeds. Fast forward to the London Summer Games in 2012, when every single competition and medal ceremony was available live.
NBC has extended that to the Sochi games, which began Thursday. Every sport is available live at NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra apps for Apple, Android and Windows Phone devices - the Windows version just arrived Tuesday. By contrast, during the previous Winter Games, NBC largely limited live video to curling and ice hockey.
On Thursday, I was able to watch the short program in team figure skating shortly after 10:30 a.m. EST, or 7:30 p.m. in Sochi. NBC didn’t make me wait until its television broadcast in the evening. By then, I might have learned of results from Facebook or the multitude of websites offering non-video coverage.
The day’s coverage actually began at 1 a.m. EST. with qualification rounds in men’s slopestyle. It’s a form of snowboarding in which skiers display technical skills and creativity as they maneuver down a slope peppered with jumps and rails they must slide across. I know that because NBC had a short video explaining the sport.
Of course, I didn’t actually get up at 1 a.m. to watch the Olympics. That would be crazy. Instead, my alarm went off at 4 a.m. Less crazy.
I didn’t make it out of bed until closer to 5 a.m., though, when qualification rounds for women’s slopestyle began.
It’s unfortunate that NBC doesn’t allow me to watch from the beginning. I have to catch the live stream in progress, the way television worked before digital video recorders came along. I also cannot rewind and pause video on the website, while capabilities vary on the apps.
There was a lot of down time watching events on opening day. I had to wait more than an hour between the two groups of skiers in women’s slopestyle. The live video continued, but it was mostly a distant shot of the slope. It was like watching paint dry.
I would have wanted to use that time to catch up on events I missed while sleeping. But NBC isn’t making replays available until about 3:30 p.m. EST each day. For some events, that’s more than half a day later. The exceptions will be in lower-profile sports such as curling and ice hockey.
Another limitation: I’m able to watch just one video at a time. During the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, I was able to watch four- one on the main screen, plus three in smaller windows to the side. Although there weren’t any overlapping events Thursday, that’s coming. The alternative is to watch a second feed on a phone or tablet.