NBC is airing the Rio Olympics opening ceremony on a tape delay, but there’s still a way for Americans to watch it live

For some, NBC cannot be redeemed.
For some, NBC cannot be redeemed.
Image: AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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The 2016 Olympic games kick off tomorrow (Aug. 5) in Rio de Janeiro with its opening ceremony, but most Americans won’t be able to watch it live on television. NBC, America’s summer Olympics broadcaster since 1988, announced this week that it will air the opening ceremony on a tape delay.

While the opening ceremony starts in Rio at 7pm eastern time, NBC will air it an hour later on the US east coast at 8pm. On the west coast, NBC will air the ceremony four hours after it begins, at 8pm pacific time (11pm eastern). NBC executives defended the decision, saying it allows the network to “curate” the broadcast for its viewers, adding context and editing it into a more exciting package.

That’s all well and good, but it belies NBC’s real justification for delaying the broadcast—getting it into primetime, when more Americans will watch it on TV.

This has predictably angered many Americans hoping to watch the ceremony in real time with the rest of the world. Some complained that they don’t actually want NBC to curate the coverage for them, instead preferring a raw look at the events without the commentary or forced story lines.

Bob Costas, NBC’s lead host for the games, said in a Hollywood Reporter interview that complaints about the tape delay are overblown:

The complaints about the opening ceremony strike me as silly. The opening ceremony is just that, a ceremony. A performance. It is not a competition. It makes perfect sense to delay it, and only by an hour on the East Coast, so that any minor tweaks — none of which would remove anything essential — can be made. As for the West Coast, who in their right mind wants this on in the afternoon instead of in primetime?

Luckily for Americans who refuse to wait for the NBC broadcast, there’s still a way to watch the ceremony live.

The Canadian border option

Americans who live near the Canadian border and can get CBC have it the easiest. Unlike NBC, CBC will broadcast the opening ceremony live. So if you know you get CBC, then just watch it live on CBC! Unfortunately, only a small segment of the US population has this luxury. If you live in Washington, the Great Lakes region, or the northern parts of New York and the northeast, you might have access to Canada’s public broadcaster.

The “fool the internet into thinking you live somewhere else” option

CBC, BBC One, and many other networks in countries outside the US will stream the ceremony live online. The problem is, these streams are “geoblocked,” meaning people outside those countries can’t access them. That is unless those people use a VPN, or virtual private network. It’s the same way that people outside the US trick Netflix into thinking they live in the US, and thus can obtain access to Netflix’s large US catalog.

Before we go further, know that using a VPN to circumvent geoblocking exists in a legal gray area. Strictly speaking, using a VPN is not itself illegal, but it may violate a network’s terms of use, and some broadcasters have argued it also violates copyright laws.

With that out of the way, there are dozens of VPN services you can use. Two popular ones are TotalVPN and ExpressVPN. The instructions are pretty much the same no matter which service you decide to use:

  1. Sign up for an account (some will require credit card information, others, like TotalVPN, do not).
  2. Download the app to the device(s) you plan to watch on.
  3. Open the app.
  4. Connect to a server in the United Kingdom if you want to watch BBC’s stream. If you want to watch CBC’s stream, connect to a Canadian server. If you want to watch any other network’s stream, connect to a server in the country where the network is broadcast from.
  5. Go to your stream of choice, and enjoy. You should be unblocked.