Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) NBC paid nearly $1.25 billion for the rights to the 2016 Summer Olympics and it wants to wring every nickle of value out of that purchase.
The cable giant plans to offer 6,755 hours from the XXXI Olympiad from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, across its various platforms. "That's roughly 356 hours of coverage per day (19 days). If the 6,755 hours ran on one channel, it would take 281 days to finish airing," according to NBC.
With that many hours of programming, NBC has to split it across multiple cable networks while reserving the big events for NBC. That means that someone looking for archery or rhythmic gymnastics will have to search Bravo, CNBC, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), NBC UNIVERSO (Spanish language), USA Network, and others. Throw in that Telemundo will have a Spanish language feed of the major events and you have a very complicated picture even for people with cable.
On the digital side, NBC plans to make 4,500 hours of coverage available, but that won't help people without a cable subscription, though, because watching on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app requires authenticating your subscription (meaning it only works if you pay for cable).
What's a cord-cutter to do?
The easiest way for people without cable to watch the Olympics would be to watch at the house of a friend or family member who pays for cable.
Another cheap and easy way for cord-cutters to see at least some of the game is to buy an HDTV antenna. In nearly all of the United States, it's possible to get NBC for free as an over-the-air broadcast network. Buying an antenna costs under $30 and it will at least let cord-cutters watch the most important events (and an endless parade of tear-jerking personality profiles) on NBC.
Other than that, there is no other easy way to watch NBC's cable networks without paying. It is possible, however, to access those channels without committing to cable by signing up for DISH Network's (NASDAQ:DISH) Sling Blue service. An NBC-specific service, Sling Blue offers the NBC cable networks as well as NBC in select markets for $25 a month. New subscribers also get seven days for free and anyone can cancel the service after the Olympics as DISH does not require a contract for Sling.
Normally, Sling Blue does not include CNBC and MSNBC, which are part of a $5-a-month add-on news package, but DISH has made them free for Blue subscribers in August. In addition, while Golf Channel is not part of the base package, it can be added for $5 as part of the Sports Extra add-on set of channels.
In addition to DISH's Sling, cord-cutters could also turn to Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation Vue. That service (which also offers a free seven-day trial) costs more than Sling, but it does offer much of the NBC cable package as well as the broadcast network in select markets.
This is not easy for cord-cutters
In theory, it's possible for cord-cutters to watch the two-week Olympiad by getting a seven-day free trial from DISH and then switching to one on PlayStation Vue. Aside from that ethically dubious choice or simply settling for whatever NBC airs on the main network, cord-cutters have to pay up or they won't be able to watch.
That may be bad news for freeloaders, but it makes a lot of sense for Comcast. With rights fees topping $1 billion, it's important for the company to make money from each person who watches. That means pushing for legitimate viewing options, whether that means making them pay for cable or forcing them into an alternative method of purchasing access.