Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

NBC’s Olympic Web Video Plan: Live, Legal and “Painful”

Warren Little/Getty Images

During the last summer Olympics, NBC wouldn’t show some of the most exciting events live on the Web, because it wanted to protect its ratings for its taped TV highlights.

Four years later, the programmer has wised up, and will livestream every single event. This is great news, with only one catch: If you want to see all of it, you’ll need to pay for cable TV.

Actually, make that two catches: You’ll also need to prove to NBC that you pay for cable TV (or telco TV, or satellite TV).

That’s one of the fundamental precepts of the “TV Everywhere” plan that the cable guys are using to hold off disruption, and in practice it’s a hassle. It requires digging up your cable bill so you can find your account number, and starting up yet another online account and password. Not rocket science, but certainly not one-click easy.

The TV guys, to their credit, don’t pretend that it’s easy, either.

“It’s painful, we know, but it’ll be worth it … trust us,” says an NBC Olympics explainer (thanks to Zach Seward’s excellent Cord Cutter’s Diary for the tip).

NBC isn’t the only network to acknowledge, with a wink and a nudge, that the process is a headache. Last summer, when Fox (which, like this Web site, is owned by News Corp.) moved its prime-time stuff behind a TV Everywhere pay wall, it helpfully pointed out that the process was less unpleasant than being waterboarded.

The networks say they do take all of this seriously, and argue that it has gotten easier to sign up for TV Everywhere stuff. (Here’s an amusing “Family Guy” video explaining the process.)

At a cable-industry panel I moderated last month, Disney executive David Preschlak said that the programmer has been refining the login process for its excellent Watch ESPN service/app in the last year. One small but effective change Disney has made: It now asks users to “verify” that they are paying customers, instead of telling them to “authenticate,” which is the industry’s semi-ominous term. Logins shot up dramatically after Disney swapped the terms out, Preschlak said.

One way to make all of this a whole lot easier would be to route verification/authentication from a third-party service that just about everyone uses, like Facebook, and use that service’s credentials as a login. And Facebook likes this idea a whole lot, and has been talking about it for a couple of years. But the Comcasts and Verizons of the world have yet to buy in.

So if you want to be sure you can stream Usain Bolt in real time this summer, start digging through your mail now.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work