The 2016 Summer Olympics are here, and the world’s greatest athletes are ready to show us what they’re made of. If you want to catch all the suspense, drama, and victory, but you don’t have cable, here’s how you can medal in streaming for free.
Stream It Right from NBC
NBC is making it easier than ever to stream the Olympics… if you’re a cable subscriber. However, if you can borrow a friend or family member’s cable credentials both NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app (free on iOS, Apple TV, Android, Windows devices, Xbox, and Roku) will be streaming over 4,500 hours of live coverage during the games, including the opening and closing ceremonies. You’ll pretty much be able to see it all on almost any device if someone is nice enough to let you use their credentials. You can also watch live coverage of the Olympics for free on a time-delay if you have an Over-the-Air (OTA) antenna hooked up to your TV. If none of those work for you, don’t fret, there are still a couple other ways you can watch.
Use Free Sling TV or PlayStation Vue Trials to Catch the Action
Sling TV’s basic package includes every channel that’s covering the games, including MSNBC and CNBC, even though they’re not normally part of the basic package (they’re free for the month of August). You can create a new Sling TV account right now and get a seven-day free trial (credit card required). Just make sure you select the Blue tier to get all the NBC channels, and remember to cancel before your free trial is up or you’ll be out $25.
Playstation Vue offers a similar seven-day free trial, and you don’t need a Playstation 3 or Playstation 4 to watch. The service is available on iOS,Android, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and Google Chromecast. You’ll need a free Playstation Network account to use it, and be sure to choose the lowest service tier, Access, to get the NBC channels you need. Playstation Vue credentials will also act like a cable provider and let you sign into the NBC Sports app or use NBCOlympics.com to stream from your browser. You won’t see it on the main list of providers, but there should be an option to “See a full list of providers” with Playstation Vue on it. Again, remember to cancel before your seven days are up if you don’t want to fork over $40 for a full month.
Here’s a bonus tip: The combination of those two trials should last long enough to catch most of the games. As soon as you finish your first trial, cancel, and move on to the next one. And if you’re afraid you won’t remember to cancel your subscription before your free trials end, check if you have any prepaid Visa gift cards around. If you have one with only a few bucks on it (at least $1.00), you can use it as your credit card when you sign up and not have to worry.
Use a VPN to Watch International Olympics Coverage
In the U.S., NBC has exclusive rights to the Olympics, so there’s not too many ways around their streaming paywalls, but that also means you only see the games NBC wants to show you, on a time delay that NBC chooses. But other countries have their own TV networks covering the games, and many of them offer free streaming too. With a VPN, you can re-route your connection to another country that offers free Olympic streaming, bypass location restrictions, and watch like you’re actually there. Here are all of the international networks that are offering their own free streaming of the Olympics:
- UK – BBC
- Canada – CBC
- Australia – The Seven Network
- China – CCTV
- Germany – ARD, ZDF
- Austria – ORF
- Ireland – RTE
- Spain – RTVE
For English speakers in U.S. time zones, BBC and CBC are going to be your best options. Historically, they also stream more sports, and more varied sports, than US networks provide. As long as your VPN provider has an exit node in the UK or Canada, you’re all set. Depending on which VPN provider you go with, though, this option probably won’t be free, so you’ll want to choose wisely.
TunnelBear, our favorite VPN for bypassing location restrictions like these, gives you 500MB of free data every month, but you’ll chew through that pretty fast if you’re streaming video. You’ll be better off with TunnelBear’s unlimited data plan for $7.99 per month, if you go with them. It lets you use VPNs on three different devices, including iOS and Android devices, that way you can use the BBC Sport app (iOS, Android) and CBC Rio 2016 app (iOS,Android) to watch on your phone. In fact, if you plan to do most of your streaming on your mobile devices, there’s a mobile-only subscription tier for $2.99 per month that you can choose within the TunnelBear app. It’s not a totally free option, but it’s a lot cheaper than paying for cable. Plenty of other VPNs will work for this too, so if Tunnelbear isn’t up your alley, this comparison chart will help you pick one that’s right for you.
Find the Events You Want to Watch
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to watch, you need to know when to watch. There’s a lot going on all day, every day, so take a look at the network schedules and plan accordingly:
If you have access to NBC and its affiliate networks—either through cable login credentials, Sling TV, or Playstation Vue—the folks at Cut Cable Todayhave a great rundown of which NBC networks will be covering what. Here are some of the big things you should know:
- NBCSN will host 330 hours of coverage, including most medal ceremonies, track and field, boxing, fencing, field hockey, basketball, soccer, archery, swimming, weightlifting, wrestling, and more. If you can only watch one, this channel will have more events than any other.
- NBC will host 260.5 hours of coverage, including the Olympics Opening Ceremony (Friday, August 5 4pm PT/7pm ET) and Closing Ceremony, as well as a mix of event coverage and athlete interviews and features.
- Bravo will host 94.5 hours of coverage, and be the only place to watch Men’s and Women’s Olympic Tennis in the U.S.
If you’re not sure what events you should be looking for, Bing’s Events to Watch tool will suggest the most potentially-exciting events to watch every day and when they air. It takes several things into consideration, including projected upsets, potential new world records, and highlighting events that are sure to be filled with drama.
Illustration by Angelica Alzona.