How to watch (some of) the Olympics online for free

We break down the most cost-effective way to get your Tokyo Olympics fix — from Peacock and social media to borrowing a streaming password

(Sol Cotti for The Washington Post)

It’s 2021, so the Olympics are just online now, right? Not exactly.

The Tokyo Olympics are the first Games for which American fans can legally stream a number of big live events without paying for a separate cable TV subscription. That’s happening, in part, because of Peacock, a new streaming service owned by NBC, which has the rights to broadcast the Games.

But the live online lineup has some giant holes. To name one: the Opening Ceremonies, available live only on NBC or online with a paid cable TV subscription.

Here’s the good news: Even if you don’t own a TV, there is plenty of Olympics for you. Just know you have to put some work into figuring out when and where to watch it across apps, social media and perhaps a borrowed streaming log-in. The 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and the U.S. East Coast also complicates watching some events, although many happen live during U.S. prime-time and late-night TV hours.

Perhaps the complexity isn’t surprising. Comcast, which owns NBC, makes most of its money from the Olympics through traditional broadcast TV ads and by driving people to sign up for cable subscriptions. On the other hand, this is the age of warring streaming services and a younger generation that uses smartphones like TVs. (Own an old-fashioned TV? With cable? In this economy?) At some point, the Olympics are going to have to catch up.

Help Desk: Ask us a tech question

This guide will help you find the most cost-effective way to watch. We studied NBC’s programming plan and the International Olympic Committee’s strict rules about what can be put online and where. Do you have to sign up for Peacock? (It’s your best free bet.) Can you borrow a cable log-in? (If we’re “family.”) Will athletes be streaming live from the medal podium? (Absolutely not.) And will you get in trouble for using a clip on TikTok? (Doesn’t seem like it.)

We have gathered and answered some of the most burning questions about how to watch the Summer Olympics. Let us know what we missed through our Washington Post Help Desk, and we’ll continue to update this piece.

More about the Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics have come to a close.