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TheStreet Open House

NBC Olympic Coverage Is Killing Cord Cutters

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- So maybe you managed to skate through the National Football League season using only an antenna and a patient bladder. Maybe after the last season of Breaking Bad hits Netflix this month, you will have watched the whole series without seeing it on AMC or subscribing to cable or satellite television service.

You're not going to be able to cut the cord on the Winter Olympics so easily.

As everybody discovered Friday when NBC outright refused to stream the opening ceremonies, the network's "TV Everywhere" approach to the games in Sochi, Russia, is a bit more "TV" than "Everywhere." If you're not a pay television customer, you're relegated to hoping that some full clips pop up on NBC's site or YouTube a day later or crossing your fingers that the event you wanted to see will be rebroadcast on NBC before someone online spoils the whole thing for you.

Oh, you can still watch the Olympics without cable. But much of the wall-to-wall coverage will be taking place on Comcast's NBC Sports Network, while the more esoteric fare jumps to USA, MSNBC and CNBC. NBC has online streaming and an app for mobile devices, but they require users to authenticate their paid subscription to a cable or satellite service.

Folks with antennas and online access can't even watch the Olympics the same way cord-cutting NFL fans watch football. Sure, you'll get the network broadcast, but NBC's broader Olympic coverage is like DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket -- complete with a "Gold Zone" online feature for gold-medal rounds similar to the Sunday Ticket's Red Zone channel for scoring drives. Without it, you miss a whole bunch of games and events and are forced to watch whatever marquee event the network wants to broadcast.

NBC paid $775 million for the broadcast rights to the Sochi games alone and $4.3 billion for the rights to broadcast various Olympic Games through 2020. Its plan to offset those fees involves A) Making you watch live content and the commercials that come with it B) Making you watch that content on cable channels and bringing in subscription fees (USA makes up 71 cents of your monthly cable bill, while NBC Sports Network comes out to 31 cents a month, according to SNL Kagan) or C) Letting you watch the cable content you're paying for online, but couching it in digital ads.

It can't do much of that if you're cutting cords willy-nilly and refusing to get on board with pay TV. Instead, it's turned "TV Everywhere" into a big lure. Much as record companies used to air videos on MTV in the hopes they would make people buy the rest of the album, "TV Everywhere" gives away the network content for free to drive cable subscriptions and the online/mobile access that comes with them.

You'll get the rebroadcast of the women's figure skating final for free, but if you want to see some ski jumping or biathlon, you'll have to pay up. As we mentioned last week, it's a concept that's catching on elsewhere as well. CBS and Turner's TBS, TNT and Tru TV paid billions for the rights to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and have begun streaming every game to mobile devices as well. You want to see those games, you say? Great, just verify you're a cable or satellite customer paying $1.21 a month for TNT, 59 cents a month for TBS and 9 cents a month for Tru TV and you can watch all you want. No, using a cable company as an Internet service provider and paying for their most low-grade cable bundle won't work, either. ESPN's Watch ESPN app and its tight restrictions proved that they caught on to that ploy long ago.

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