2018 Olympics Live Stream Represents Shift Toward Cord-CuttingFebruary 11, 2018
The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are now underway—and we’ve come a long way since the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, when live streaming was akin to doping in the realm of Olympic taboos. Rio was the first global-scale event held since user-generated content (UGC) apps, such as Periscope and YouTube, had become widely popular, and the initial response of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to this growing trend was disappointing.
Rather than embrace attendees’ enthusiasm to share their front-row experiences with the world through live-streaming mobile apps, the IOC worried that UGC would misrepresent the athletes, teams or nations involved or conflict with network broadcasting rights, and attempted to impose bans on unofficial video content. The committee expressly prohibited the use of consumer live-streaming apps—and even banned the creation of animated GIFs.
The Host Broadcaster, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), is responsible for providing the images and sounds of the Olympic Games as a service to all broadcast organizations that have purchased the television and radio rights (Rights Holding Broadcasters, or RHBs). The official U.S. network sponsor, NBC, live-streamed select content through its NBC Sports app and website in 2014, but this required a cable-subscription login to access.
This year represents a larger shift taking place toward widespread acceptance of cord-cutting on the part of networks and brands. In 2018, NBC will live stream a record number of hours of Winter Olympics coverage: 1,800 hours, as opposed to 1,000 hours streamed during the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. As it was then, coverage will be available through the app and the NBC Olympics website for those with a cable TV login. In fact, OBS is using Wowza Streaming Engine at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics to power live streaming to all RHBs! A longtime Wowza customer, OBS used the Wowza Streaming EngineTM software during the 2016 Summer Games, as well.
But here is the most important takeaway of this year’s Games: 2018 marks the first time NBC will offer live-streaming coverage of the Olympics to those without a cable subscription. While it’s limited to a “temporary pass,” in which viewers can watch 30 minutes of free streaming the first time they use the site or app and five minutes a day after that, this is still a major departure from the last Winter Games.
This is also the first time cable-authenticated users will be able to access Winter Olympics coverage through the NBC Sports app on connected TVs (including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Samsung Smart TVs, among others). Even more exciting: PyeongChang will be the first Winter Olympics to be live streamed on virtual reality (VR) headsets for authenticated users—and the first ever to be broadcast on a wide range of manufacturers’ devices (the Rio Games were only available on Samsung headsets).
There are also a number of official live-streaming channels for viewers in countries outside the U.S., such as the BBC iPlayer in the United Kingdom and the CBC website in Canada. And, of course, despite the IOC’s best efforts, there will always be rogue live streams that viewers may be able to catch on various online channels before they’re shut down.
While the IOC may not yet be ready to embrace UGC and unsanctioned streaming in its entirety, this year marks a step toward the future of live-streaming video: free, unlimited and user-generated coverage of major events that everyone can access, regardless of their cable subscription status.
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