While it’s not quite to the point of being what I’d call a “boycott,” it’s looking like the chances are extremely slim that we’re going to be watching much of this year’s Olympic coverage. We’d like to, but NBC has done a marvelous job of ensuring that we either can’t watch, or when we can, we don’t want to.
We just tried to watch some of this afternoon’s coverage. In the roughly fifteen minutes before we couldn’t take it any longer, we saw three commercial breaks, four talking heads (with audio lagging about a second behind the video feed), a bit of an interview with the first medalist from this year’s games, and eight-year-old footage from that same athlete’s first win in 2002. We listened to Bob Costas tell us that he was in Vancouver and that there were sports going on. We heard — again — about the accidental death on the luge track. We heard an interviewer ask an athlete “how he did it” after winning (um, he practiced his ass off, you idiot — why are sports interviewers always at the very bottom of the “stupid interview question” scale?).
What we didn’t see was any actual sports footage.
Oh, how I miss watching the last Summer Olympics on CBC, the Canadian network that Comcast carries locally. Their coverage was leagues better than anything NBC had: fewer inane talking heads (which can be interpreted as fewer talking heads overall or less inanity from the talking heads they had, either of which is an acceptable and correct reading); less “we’re the only country that matters” mentality; comprehensive coverage of all sorts of sports, even those that are less massively popular; and coverage that wasn’t constantly cut into with edits, updates, promises of what’s to come, and commercials (we spent one afternoon watching an entire marathon nearly commercial free, in part because we could, and in part because it was far more interesting than we’d ever realized, simply by virtue of actually being able to watch it). The realization that CBC wouldn’t be broadcasting the Olympics this year — and, further, that the Canadian network that got the contract isn’t viewable locally — was a sad one indeed.
Lately, we’ve been enjoying my new computer’s ability to watch streaming video sites like Hulu and Netflix, so I went to the NBC Olympics site to see what was available there. They’re posting a number of videos of stuff that has already happened, but prominently displayed on the main page is a live video stream (only active at particular times and for particular events, however). I click that, and am asked to tell NBC who my cable or Internet provider is. Apparently, NBC will only serve the live video to customers of certain other companies that they have contracts with. Annoying, but hey, Comcast is right near the top of the list, and we have Comcast cable, so we should be good.
After choosing Comcast, I get directed to a Comcast login page. I log in to Comcast, and they direct me back to the video stream…which tells me I’m not eligible. What? I go through the process again, and this time, work my way through until I discover that even though NBC has a contract with Comcast, and even though I’m a Comcast cable subscriber, I’m not the right kind of Comcast cable subscriber.
See, Prairie and I don’t watch a ton of TV, don’t see the need to pay ridiculous amounts of money for hundreds of channels we’ll never watch, and don’t even have a digital TV — both of our TVs are old, square, analog sets. So, there’s no reason for us to subscribe to digital cable, and we’re quite happy with our $15/month bare bones, completely basic, plug-the-cable-into-the-back-of-the-TV-set package (and honestly, we wouldn’t even bother with that if we got decent over-the-air reception with a digital receiver box, but OTA digital TV is essentially nonexistent in the Kent Valley). However, it appears that Comcast has decided that people like us don’t count, and is only sending the video streams to customers who subscribe to a digital cable package.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at Comcast’s website — and after poking around there, I think that digital cable prices might be one of the biggest arguments against upgrading our TVs until we absolutely have to (when they die, that is). Right now, we’re paying $15/month for a bare-bones package that serves us more than adequately — in fact, we only pay attention to about 7 of the 30-some channels that are part of the package, so there’s an argument to be made that even now, we’re over paying. If we were to upgrade to a digital cable package, the least expensive package available is $60 a month! Of course, what the website says is $30/month, but that’s only for the first six months. I can’t think of any reason why I’d want to quadruple what I’m currently paying so that I can have more crap that I’m not interested in piped into my home, no matter how pretty it is or how much of it has surround sound.
Further down the page, they mention a “Digital Economy Package,” apparently aimed at people like us, that actually is $30/month — but, of course, you can only get that if you also get your phone and/or internet through Comcast, which we don’t. So, once again, that’s not an option.
(Heading off counter-arguments: satellite TV isn’t an option, our apartment faces the wrong direction; and outlying the money for a HTPC/Media Center of some sort isn’t a realistic option for both budgetary reasons and that nagging little fact that we’re still using “old school” TV sets. I’ve got a very nice Sony TV set that’s only eight years old, and my parents have a Sony TV set that’s in its 30s and still working, so we may well not be upgrading our hardware for a long time to come.)
The end result of all of this? NBC can bite me, Comcast can bite me, and the Olympics — well, it’s not really their fault, but come on.