No Cable? No Problem. Here’s How to Watch the Olympics Anyway
Contrary to complaints you might be reading on Facebook, the 2016 Olympics in Rio are free to watch.
Unlike a subscription network like HBO, which hides your coveted “Game of Thrones” episodes behind a paywall, NBC is one of a few basic television networks you can watch for free with an antenna.
I’ll pause here a moment to allow baby boomers to laugh at this millennial explanation of how TV works.
If you don’t have an antenna, you can buy one for way less than one month’s cable bill.
But maybe you don’t have a TV because you’re cool like that. Or you’re like me and you have a TV, but you cut the cord because you don’t want cable access in your home.
Either way, you can still watch the Olympics. Here’s how we’re doing it at my house.
How to Watch the Olympics Online Without Cable
Several streaming services have emerged in an attempt to fill in this gap. While they’re cheaper than most cable packages, they’re still not the most attractive options.
For $25 a month, you could sign up for the Dish Network-owned streaming service Sling Blue, which bundles NBCSN, Bravo, USA and some local NBC stations. CNBC and MSNBC are also available on Sling Blue during the 2016 Olympics, according to Time.
If you own a PlayStation, you could sign up for PlayStation Vue, its streaming service that offers access to hundreds of channels. You can get it free for seven days, and then the Access Slim package (55+ channels) costs $29.99 a month.
If you just want a quick look at your favorite event, you can watch streaming Olympics via NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app free for 30 minutes. After that, access is cut until you enter a login from a cable provider.
But there’s a better way.
How to Watch the Olympics Online for Just $4.99
This is how we’re watching the Olympics at my house this year. You don’t have to be too tech-savvy to do it, but you should understand a few basics:
- Every computer or other internet-enabled device (your smartphone, laptop or tablet) has an IP address, a set of numbers tied to your physical location.
- That set of numbers tells websites where you’re located, and can affect the content you see. This is different from geolocation, which you have to give a website permission to access.
Because of my IP address, when I visit cbc.ca/watch (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s site) from Florida, I get this message:
But at home, we have a VPN (a virtual private network) that changes our computer’s address to a Canadian IP address. That way, when we visit CBC’s website, we see what Canada sees:
We chose Canada because we knew CBC offered free streaming Olympic coverage -- and because it’s in English and near our time zone.
All of these international networks offer free streaming of the Olympics:
- UK - BBC
- Canada - CBC
- Australia - The Seven Network
- China - CCTV
- Germany - ARD, ZDF
- Austria - ORF
- Ireland - RTE
- Spain - RTVE
Most VPN services charge a monthly fee, and you can unsubscribe anytime.
One of the cheapest, Unblock-Us starts with a one-week free trial and costs $4.99 a month after that.
When you sign up, you’ll follow simple instructions to get set up.
Is This Completely Legal and Safe?
As of this writing, using a VPN service is legal in the U.S., so you won’t face legal repercussions like you’d expect for internet piracy.
Where the line blurs is whether using the VPN violates your internet provider’s Terms of Service or those of the networks you access.
Familiarize yourself with these, so you can make an informed decision before taking any action.
And be sure to vet the site you use to avoid those with nefarious motives.
Now, I’ve got Olympic coverage and an archive of “Dragon’s Den” to catch up on before the month is over -- gotta go!
Your Turn: How are you watching the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).