clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

How to watch the Olympic opening ceremony — and everything else — on TV or online

It’s easy! Or hard! Depends how much time and money you want to spend on this.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

The 2016 Rio Olympics formally kick off tonight*, when the opening ceremony begins.

Unlike previous Olympics, the ceremony will be the only thing that you can’t see live, either on TV or on the web in the United States.

The ceremony kicks off at 7 pm ET, but NBC will show it on a tape delay at 7:30 pm ET to people who live in that time zone; everyone else in the United States has to wait until 7:30 their time to start watching.

That is: If you live San Francisco and you’re seeing your pals in New York City tweet this afternoon about some country’s ridiculous track suit, you won’t be able to join in because they’ll be watching it before you. You have to wait until 7:30 Pacific to start snarking.

But every single competition in every other event, from archery to wrestling (did you know trampoline was an Olympic sport this year?) — some 6,700 hours worth of sports — will be available live, either on TV or over the web. As long as you have a pay TV subscription.

If you’re a pay TV subscriber, or you know someone who is, watching the games is simple. You can watch them on one of NBCUniversal’s 10 networks that will carry the games. Or you can stream them via NBC’s website , or its apps for iPhone, Android, Apple TV, Roku, etc.

You’ll need a login and password from your pay TV provider to make it work, but you’re used to that by now.

(Here we will also point out that NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.)

If you don’t pay for TV, you can still get almost all of that, legally, by pretending to be interested in paying for internet TV and signing up for a free trial from Sling TV or Sony’s Playstation Vue. (Sling may be easier, since it works on more devices and won’t require you to set up a Sony Playstation account.) Either option is going to require a credit card.

The last option is to go old school and buy an antenna and watch NBC’s free HD broadcast coverage, which will generally be presented in tape-delayed packages aimed at broad audiences, not hard-core sports fans. But if you’re the kind of person who gets TV via an antenna, you’re used to having limited TV options.

Okay. So now we’re done with all the servicey/SEO-friendly stuff, here’s the thing I’m really interested in: How much of the games will be available, in unauthorized form, online?

In the past, this kind of conversation was centered almost entirely on YouTube, which used to be a haven for unauthorized video of stuff like the Olympics but eventually cracked down** on that kind of thing.

But since 2012, as you may have noticed, there are many more places than YouTube to find video.

And while Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, Vine and other platforms have all embraced video in the past few years, none of them have built out the kind of comprehensive Content ID system YouTube built to police copyright violations. (Though Facebook says it will, eventually.)

Which is a long-winded way of saying that if you’re on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms a lot during the Olympics, you may very well see highlight clips of varying quality pop up during the events.

They may not stay there for long (though they may be there for a while), but that may be plenty for you. We’ll certainly come back to this story line in the coming days. Stay tuned!

* If you are the kind of person who knows that Olympic competitions already started earlier this week, when the games’ soccer tournament began, then you don’t need to read this post.

** How much they’ve cracked down, of course, depends on your perspective. Ask the music guys.

This article originally appeared on