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Web or TV? Strategies for watching the Olympics

August 4, 2008 |  3:35 pm
Natalie Coughlin

For many, watching the Summer Olympics is itself a sport.

First, there's the time zone difference -- Beijing is 15 hours ahead of California. Then, there's getting through the commercials and the angry muttering from one's fellow couch potato about the America-centric, triumph-and-heartbreak commentary (which some of us love). Finally, there is bedtime to consider, with many of the best events not appearing on TV until late at night.

Do you put yourself in a total media blackout so that you don't hear the results, allowing yourself to savor the prime-time experience on TV later? Or give up suspense and embrace the Information Age?

Fortunately, NBC has promised that many of the top events will be aired live, with a couple hour tape-delay for West Coast folks, according to Show Tracker. But this Olympics offers fans more options and flexibility, thanks to the Internet. Via NBC's Olympics website, U.S. residents can watch more live video online than ever before -- 2,200 hours across 25 events.

But of course, when you are ready to watch, the athletes may not be competing. So NBC is ...

... making available more than 3,000 hours of on-demand video of events and highlights. There's another option for people using Microsoft's Vista operating system on their computers. They can subscribe to events via a service from TV Tonic, leave their PCs on overnight and get full events downloaded by morning. Will this be reason enough for people to upgrade to the much-maligned Vista?

Many of the events that can be viewed online are ones rarely seen on TV. (Archery, anyone?) And much of the online video comes without commentary, says the New York Times. This will reduce the cries of American jingoism in some homes.

Still, TV's prime time rules. Big sports -- gymnastics, track and field, swimming, diving, volleyball and beach volleyball -- will be reserved for television viewers first, Web viewers second.

Big mistake, says Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider, who accuses NBC of being a content-hoarder and believes the strategy will frustrate Olympics fans. The network would do better to make all events available all the time, with a link to live streaming video, he said. "We suspect we'll spend most of the Olympics cursing NBC for forcing us to watch the Olympics according to their schedule and style, not ours," he wrote.

There are alternatives, right? Maybe not. If you were hoping to just check out YouTube every night, you might be disappointed. There's an official Olympics YouTube channel courtesy of YouTube's parent, Google, according to the Wall Street Journal. But it's not available inside the U.S. Drat!

And YouTube will filter content proactively, so great video captured by a spectator's cellphone at the games won't make it onto the site, the Journal said.

Let us know your Olympics-watching strategy.

-- Michelle Quinn

Photo: Natalie Coughlin of the U.S. Olympic swimming team. Credit: Wong Maye-E / Associated Press

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