NBC's "Free" Olympics Livestream Is Misleading and a BummerS

The ad for the NBC Olympics Live Extra service is so awesome it turns me on. 3500 live hours of sports online or on my tablet or smartphone? Incredible! But like a clever temptress, NBC neglects to mention one thing: Unlike primetime NBC, NBC Olympics Live Extra isn't free.

Remember how excited we got right after the Super Bowl when we learned that NBC was teaming up with YouTube to bring you all of the Olympics live for free online? Some events had been streamed in past Olympics, but this would be incredible. Or, it turns out, too good to be true. NBC Olympics Live Extra requires a cable or satellite contract, which the company didn't publicize until just a few weeks ago:

During the Games, NBCOlympics.com will live stream every event and sport for the first time ever. In all, the site will live stream more than 3,500 total programming hours, including the awarding of all 302 medals. By comparison, NBCOlympics.com live streamed 25 sports and 2,200 hours for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The vast majority of live streaming will only be available to authenticated cable, satellite or telco customers. The site will also feature rewinds of all event coverage, a steady stream of athlete profiles, event highlights, a tour of London as the host city, and more.

Fine, but that's not the story NBC was telling us two months ago—at least not as overtly as they should have. When news of YouTube's partnership with NBC for the streams broke all anyone could do was think free. The Super Bowl was streamed for free. YouTube is free. While the new website for NBC Live Extra clearly states that you need a cable or satellite contract and NBC's required authentication before, look how many times that page says FREE on it.

"As with both Beijing and Vancouver, the vast majority of live streaming will only be available to authenticated cable, satellite or telco customers," Chris McCloskey from NBC told us by email along with a copy of the mid-April press release announcing the service. NBC says that despite the early reports with network confirmation, NBC Olympics Live Extra wasn't really official until April 18th. The implication is that we should have all known better.

To be honest, it makes complete sense that NBC would require a cable contract. Providing that service costs money and as we saw with the recent rumor that Hulu would soon require authentication, the networks need to keep you from cutting the cable. If that's your model, many people will gladly pay, but don't mislead us. [CBS]