By way of introduction, my wife and I don’t have a TV. If we want to watch the Yankees, we just walk four blocks over to the stadium. If we want to watch other major sporting events, we usually just go to a bar. By and large, not having a TV is a quiet lifestyle we enjoy, except for the two weeks every two years when I am suddenly consumed with an all-encompassing desire to watch the Olympics. Here’s the woeful tale of what happened when I tried to watch the 2012 Summer Games without the benefit of a television. All of the quotes below are paraphrased as best as I can remember them from a month ago.
NBC: Get our great free app, Live Extra, to watch the Olympics!
Me: Awesome! Now I’ll be able to watch the Olympics on my iPad. This is exactly what I wanted! [Downloads app. Attempts to activate.]
NBC Live Extra app: To activate this app, click on your cable provider. [Provides a list of links to many cable providers: Comcast, Cablevision, Verizon, Time Warner, etc. etc. etc.]
Me: Uh-oh. I don’t have cable, which is exactly why I want to download this app. But then again, I am a Cablevision subscriber for Internet. Maybe that will work. [Clicks on Cablevision link.]
NBC Live Extra app, after a pause: Sorry, you’re not authorized to use this app. Call your cable provider at this number for assistance.
Me: [Dials the number.]
Cablevision: Thank you for calling Cablevision! To order our services, press 1. For help with your existing account, press 2.
Me: Hmm, I might need to order cable AND I need help with my existing account. Both of these choices seem like they could help me. [Presses 1.]
Cablevision, after being on hold: Hello and welcome to Cablevision. How may we help you?
Me: Uh, hi. I want to activate the NBC’s Olympics complete coverage app. But it wouldn’t let me activate it, and said I should call this number.
Cablevision, after 20 minutes of back-and-forth, being on hold, multiple pronouncements of my Cablevision account number, transferring to new representatives, and confusion about what I was trying to do: You need to upgrade to a cable subscription in order to use this app. You can add cable to your existing Internet subscription for an additional $64.95 a month. Or you can order Optimum Triple Play which gives you cable plus phone plus Internet for $89.85 a month.
Me: Thanks but I don’t need the Triple Play since my wife and I just use our cellphones and we don’t really need a landline. I’ll take the minimum package possible as long as it has CNBC and MSNBC. Is there some sort of minimum number of months I need to agree to for this?
Cablevision: No. There’s no contract. You can cancel at any time.
Me: That’s cool. But still, in order to watch the Olympics on this free app, I need to pay you $64.95 for one month and then cancel my cable subscription? That seems like a lot of money to pay for a free app, but hell, I love the Olympics and I’m willing to do it.
Cablevision: OK, when do you want us to come over to install the cable?
Me: Oh, don’t worry about that. As long as I can use the app, I’m good.
Cablevision: We can’t give you a cable subscription without physically installing the cable box and hookup.
Me: You mean you need to come to my apartment and actually install cable? I just want the account.
Cablevision: That’s right. For you to have cable, we need to come over and install the cables.
Me: Are you completely certain that I can’t just get an account, enter the account number into the app, and watch on my iPad?
Cablevision, after checking with supervisor: Yes, that’s right. You need to have a cable hookup, including the cable box.
Me: Okay, when can you come to set it up?
Cablevision: We can be there next Tuesday between 8 a.m. and noon, or 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Me: Well, luckily my wife is home for summer break and she’ll be around during those times. I’ll miss the first few days of the Olympics, but I’ll still be able to catch most of it. There’s one thing I should tell you since you’re going to be installing cable television in our apartment. We don’t have a television.
Cablevision: In order to have a cable hookup, you have to have a physical TV.
Me: In order to “have cable TV” for the purposes of activating an app, I have to have an actual TV set? All I want to do is watch the app on my iPad.
Cablevision: Yes, you have to have a physical TV to have cable. [I'm sure she's stifling laughter at this point, stating the obvious to such an idiot as myself.]
Me: What’s a TV going to run me? Probably hundreds of dollars, right? This free app is starting to get expensive.
Cablevision: Maybe you can borrow a friend’s TV?
Me: This is getting complicated. Let me figure this out. Thanks for your help. I’ll call you back if we decide to go forward.
So all I wanted to do was watch the Olympics in an age of ubiquitous broadband and streaming content. NBC has created a free app specifically for that purpose. But in order to use the app, I already had to have cable. If I’d have had cable, I could just as well have watched most of the events I wanted to watch right on TV, without the need for the app!
It’s a Catch-22: Because I don’t have a TV, I want to watch the Olympics on my iPad. In order to watch the Olympics on my iPad, I need to subscribe to cable. In order to subscribe to cable, I need to have a cable box and hookup installed. In order to get the box and hookup, I need to have a TV. This is ridiculous! Why can’t NBC just offer a paid iPad app where I wouldn’t need to go through all this?
In the end, we watched the Olympics at my folks’ house an hour away and at a hotel. And, since we were booked on a cruise anyway, we watched on a cruise ship, soaking in a hot tub in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by the sea, the stars, and scores of cheering USA fans. From now on, we’re not even messing around with free apps or cable. We’re booking cruises every two years to watch the Olympics.