How to Watch the Olympics Online Free

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Image Not Available

Today, the 2012 Olympic Games begin. Want to watch it all online? You’ll need to jump some hurdles.

If you live in the United States and want to see London-based Olympics events live on your computer, smartphone, or tablet, you have to go through NBC. And if you don’t have a cable subscription that includes CNBC and MSNBC, you’ll only be able to see parts of the games.

NBC is offering more than 3,500 hours of Olympics video for TV and digital devices, and they’re touting it as “free” – but it’s only free for existing cable subscribers. That’s something you might not know by looking at their mobile apps. Here’s the top of the description for “NBC Olympics Live Extra” for Apple and Android devices…

Get to ready to watch every moment of the 2012 London Olympic Summer Games LIVE for FREE with the NBC Olympics Live Extra app. In addition to watching all the live action, during the Olympics, enhance your viewing experience with alternate camera views, plus full replays on-the-go! You can follow your favorite events and sports, and receive push notifications for event start times.

And here’s a typical one-star review that users have ranked the most helpful…

Too bad if you’ve cut the cable/satellite – by Grumpymatt

You are out of luck if you are like many who have chosen to cut (or had to due to finances) your cable or satellite subscriptions. It requires verification that you are a subscriber to access live events.

Adding to the confusion is the fact there’s more than one app. In addition to NBC Olympics Live Extra, which offers “comprehensive live coverage,” there’s another official one just called “NBC Olympics,” which lets users “experience the best of the 2012 London Olympic Summer Games.” Does that mean highlights? Let’s try to sort this all out…

What can I do without cable?

If you don’t have cable, you’re not completely cut off. Here’s what NBC’s frequently asked Olympics questions section says…

If I don’t sign-up, will I be able to view any online Olympics coverage on or with an app?

Yes. You will still be able to view limited live NBC network content including full event replays, short-form highlights and features, event encores and other content at and with the NBC OLYMPIC APP. You won’t be able to view every event live without signing up [for cable].

You also may be able to get full access through a buddy or neighbor’s Internet connection, as I explain below. But first, here’s what I did…

I wasn’t sure which app “NBC OLYMPIC APP” referred to, so I downloaded both.

On the NBC Olympics app, I was able to see Olympics news headlines, photo galleries, video clips of athlete interviews, a schedule, and result pages – all stuff that seems available through on my laptop. All of this should be free to everybody regardless of cable, since every national media outlet will probably have similar wall-to-wall coverage.

The app’s schedule view marks what’s currently live and available for replay. Trying to tap on any of the events to watch them sent me over to the “Live Extra” app. So it appears NBC Olympics is the “everything else” app, and Live Extra is the streaming app.

In the Live Extra app, there’s a top reel of video clips including what’s live, how to get the app, and how it works. There are also some of the same interviews from the other NBC Olympics app.

Below that, there are reels called “Live Now,” “Spotlight,” and “Channels.” When I looked at it on Thursday, there was a lot of overlap between those reels – it was all the same soccer stuff. I expect it will diversify as more events are happening. The Live Extra app also lets you “heart” events from the full schedule to create a custom one, which will send your phone an alert 15 minutes before your faves start.

Without logging in, I was able to watch both replays and live coverage. But I think this is because my Internet connection is provided by my cable company, Comcast. NBC’s FAQ says, “For some at-home users, ‘automatic’ validation may occur, allowing direct access to content without the need to input a username/password.”

What specifically you’ll be able to watch without access to one of these cable connections is unclear – and totally up to NBC.

Does that mean I can watch everything for free?!

Maybe. Just as you can sometimes get free Wi-Fi from your neighbor’s unsecured connection, you may be able to get free access to Olympics video – if their Internet comes as part of a package from a cable company and not a telecom (DSL Internet) service, and if that particular provider happens to automatically validate. It may come down to luck, but it definitely worked for this South Florida Comcast/Xfinity customer.

I have cable. How do I get started?

If you try to view video on or the Live Extra app and you aren’t automatically validated through your Internet connection, you’ll be prompted to select your cable provider and enter your username and password.

This may have been established when you registered for service, and maybe it’s attached to an email address provided by the company. If you don’t have a username and password or don’t know what it is, you’ll need your account number or a recent bill. NBC’s FAQ has dropdown menus of all the cable companies and can direct you straight through the process. You should only have to set up access once.

What if I currently live outside the U.S.?

The official Olympics YouTube channel will offer fans “across 64 territories in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa” more than 2,200 hours of high-definition coverage, for free – no cable required. CTV will offer Canadians Olympics coverage through its YouTube channel, too.

Get smarter with your money!

Want the best money-news and tips to help you make more and spend less? Then sign up for the free Money Talks Newsletter to receive daily updates of personal finance news and advice, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter today.