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NBC Using Authentication Wall for Olympics

nbcolympicslogoAt the rate online video is growing, I imagine there will be a lot of people wanting to watch the Olympics online come 2010. If that’s the case, they’d better not abandon their TV subscriptions.

Using an advanced authentication method, NBC Universal will require online viewers to prove that they subscribe to a cable, satellite or telecom subscription TV package. Even then, the customer’s service provider must agree to this deal with NBC Universal beforehand.

The report in Sports Business Journal says the authentication will be limited to live footage, while some archived footage will be available for free.

Though much of NBC’s coverage will appear over the airwaves (free to anyone with an HD tuner and antenna), the paywall is probably meant to placate service providers due to the coverage NBC spreads to its subscription channels, such as MSNBC. Without being privy to the interactions between the network and service providers, I can’t say outright that authentication is a boneheaded move on NBC’s part. It could just be a necessity in the crazy world of content licensing.

But there should be some option for non-subscribers to watch the games online, and it should be robust rather than a second-class medium. Look at what Major League Baseball is doing with its MLB.tv offerings: Picture-in-picture, live highlights, DVR, player tracking. These are luxuries that go far beyond what the TV can do, and in my opinion, they’re worth paying for.

Give me a menu of which games are happening right now, and let me open a few of them in separate frames. Give me reminders of when the next Curling match is set to air and let me watch later if I miss it. I want a clickable ticker packed with highlights from around Vancouver. Please don’t give me the same thing I could get on cable, but harder to watch. As a cable divorcee, I’d throw $20 on this hypothetical service for the duration of the games.

But these are fantasies, to be sure. Maybe NBC Universal will learn after it endures another year of subpar viewing numbers.

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