NBC hopes free pass will help TV Everywhere

Monday, February 3, 2014 | 7:18 p.m. CST

NEW YORK — NBC is using the Olympics to push interest in technology allowing cable or satellite TV subscribers to see live Winter Olympics competition on mobile phones or tablets.

The network said Monday it will give subscribers a 30-minute "free pass" to Olympics video before they are asked to verify that they are paying customers. On subsequent days, the access will be limited to five minutes before verification.

"It's a big step forward for the industry," said Rick Cordella, NBC Sports' senior vice president for digital distribution. "I think it will engage a lot of people."

The industry's TV Everywhere initiative is an attempt to prevent cable and satellite customers from defecting to streaming services such as Netflix by letting them watch programming on mobile devices. The idea has been slow to take hold, however, because different system operators and networks offer different shows to stream. There has been little rush to offer live programming because it hasn't been included in the Nielsen ratings, but that will soon change.

Just under 10 million mobile devices were authenticated to watch live programming during the London Summer Olympics, Cordella said, though NBC doesn't have a count of how many actual customers that included.

The verification process involves entering a username and password provided by your cable or satellite companies. Most people don't know them, so it requires a call to their providers.

With the London games, people couldn't see anything on their devices without that information. NBC is hoping the temporary free pass will give people a greater incentive to sign in because they will have a taste of what is offered.

For certain cable system, the authentication process is done automatically if the device is used within the home, Cordella said.

Users will have to download either the app or NBC's LiveExtra app. NBC is live streaming more than 1,000 hours of Olympics events during the Sochi games, which begin Thursday, as well as providing analysis, interviews and highlights.

"We've tried to make it as easy as possible for the average person," said Ron Lamprecht, executive vice president of digital distribution for NBC Universal.

NBC's hope is that the TV Everywhere experience during the Olympics will prove so satisfying that viewers will try it for other events or programs. The network is not offering Olympics programming through more general TV Everywhere apps, like NBC parent Comcast Corp.'s XFinity service. That's a potential barrier, since some customers may not want to clog their devices with several apps for individual events or networks.

NBC is also using Ryan Seacrest in an instructional video to tell customers how to use the apps.

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