Rio 2016: A Cord-Cutter's Guide to the Summer Olympics

Live sports is considered the cable companies' last line of defense against the cord-cutting movement. And while it's still true that it takes more effort to watch major sporting events without a pricey cable contract, it's becoming easier than ever to make it work.

So how do you catch the 2016 Olympics, beginning Aug. 5 and wrapping up Aug. 21? If you do have access to a cable login, you can watch live streams of nearly every event via or the NBC Sports Live Extra app. (Note: As a U.S.-based team, we've prepared this guide with American viewers in mind, but there are plenty of geo-agnostic tips ahead.) If you don't, there are many other options, which we've broken down into three levels:


Bet on Bronze

While much of the NBCUniversal networks' planned 2,000 hours of TV coverage will be aired on cable networks like USA, MSNBC, and Bravo, good old NBC will carry the marquee events (and all those emotion-manipulating fluff pieces). And these days a relatively cheap digital antenna allows TVs to pick up over-the-air high definition programming free from the signal compressions used by cable and satellite companies. An added bonus: With Rio just one hour ahead of the Eastern U.S. time zone, much of the coverage will be live, a welcome change that will give NBC's programming a little more relevance.

But, of course, if you don't have a TV at all or just want more content, you'll need access to alternatives.


Seize Silver

In addition to NBC, the 2016 Games will air on Bravo, CNBC, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network, NBC Universo, Telemundo, and USA. And both of the major live TV streaming services offer access to NBC content.

Playstation Vue's basic plan ($30 or $40 a month, depending on your location) includes all the channels airing Olympic events except NBC Universo and Golf Channel, the latter of which is available on Vue's higher plans. It's a great time to check out the Vue, which recently expanded service and the number of devices it's available on (besides PS3 and PS4, the service can be accessed via Amazon Fire, Roku devices, and Android and iOS apps). And with a seven-day free trial available, you can bail if you decide the Vue isn't delivering a podium-worthy service.

Sling TV recently introduced NBC local broadcast channels in select markets and many of its other networks nationwide. The Sling Blue service ($25 per month) includes USA, Bravo, and NBC Sports Network. Sling Blue's "Extra" packs will get you CNBC, Golf, MSNBC, and NBC Universo. And Sling Blue is a multi-stream service, so if someone in the house is an Olympics hater, they can go watch House Hunters International on an iPad while you get back to armchair coaching.

It's worth noting that you could take advantage of both service's trial periods during the Games, as well. Just sayin'.


Go for Gold

The Olympics are all about bringing people from around the world together, so why not take a page from their book and sample other countries' coverage? This list of networks with broadcast rights to the Games is a good place to start. The BBC and CBC, in particular, provide high-quality streams to viewers from their respective countries. If you want in on the action, all it takes is a good VPN or smart DNS service. There are free and paid options, simple-to-use browser extensions, and more complicated setups. Here are a few of the best:

TunnelBear is very simple to use and offers both free and paid services. The basic (free) account provides 500MB of data per month, which won't get you through a full night's coverage, but will give you an idea of whether the service is worth paying for. Unlimited data comes at $7.99 per month or $49.99 a year. TunnelBear lets you connect to more than 20 countries and has apps for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS devices, plus Chrome and Opera browser plugins, which can be ideal for streaming specific websites' content.

WiTopia focuses on security as well as online privacy and is a popular choice in countries that censor content. Both of its paid products offer access to gateways in 45 countries and support iOS, Android, Chromebook, Linux, Windows, and Mac products. Monthly plans start from $5.99.

Hotspot Shield offers a free VPN tier, but more ardent Olympics fans will want to pony up for a subscription, which are heavily discounted based on how many months or years you sign up for at a time (there's even a lifetime option for $99.95). With virtual locations in the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, and a handful of other countries, you'll have your pick of stream options for Rio.

For more on watching TV without a cable subscription, check out our full, updated Guide to Cord-Cutting.



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Jul 26, 2016 1:17AM EDT

This guide is so useful! The Olympics are a world unifying event and it is so much more fun to watch it live. Hearing the results from the news or other people later is nowhere near as great.

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Aug 9, 2016 3:44PM EDT

The Ultimate Cord-Cutter's Guide would be to experience it for yourself! I'm in Brazil now, (from Australia) its great!

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Aug 9, 2016 4:43PM EDT

True, ZaneAppeal. Have a blast! Give our regards to Pita Taufatofua.

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Aug 13, 2016 3:58AM EDT

I'm sure it's fantastic, except for the people in the slums who get evicted and shot in the face. This sh*tshow should be boycotted.

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