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64 Nations Can Watch the Olympics Free and Live on YouTube, and the U.S. Isn't One of Them

Why America can't watch the Games live for free, and why it's exciting that other countries can



International sporting agencies: so ubiquitously, hilariously corrupt that they get a character in the Harry Potter books. This year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has distinguished itself not necessarily with corruption, but with a Newspeak-friendly brand containment zone where only McDonald's can sell "french fries" (but fried potatoes are perfectly allowed.) But sometimes, it also does something really cool and true to its mission. The IOC's TV Rights and New Media Commission declares that:

The IOC takes all necessary steps in order to ensure the fullest coverage by the different media and the widest possible audience in the world for the Olympic Games.

And, this Olympics, they definitively did. The IOC is freely broadcasting the Olympics to sixty-four Asian and sub-Saharan African countries on Youtube. Ghanaians, or Indians, or Basotho (see the full list below) can tune in, without paying, to watch some 10 different live streams, which run from 9am to 11pm London time. They can also watch the 24-hour Olympic News channel.

There are a few caveats. All the broadcasts are in English. Internet availability throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa remains scarce. Check the graph below, and you'll see that in the parts of Africa and Asia where the 64 territories are, only around 20 percent of each nation's population uses the Internet:


Data from the International Telecommunications Union 2011 Report.

Why does an East Timorese get to watch the Olympics online, for free, while Americans don't? Because the US (and Canada, and most South American and European countries) have large media companies which will happily bid for the right to show the Games. In most of the territories that receive free YouTube access, there just isn't a big media company which could air the Olympics and turn anything close to a profit (yet). So the IOC steps in. 

Though even as the IOC intervenes, it does so with YouTube, private company. To split hairs, this is a combined presentation from the IOC and YouTube, and not a gift from the IOC to a public trust like the Internet Archive. (Though there's no reason to think that the Archive could necessarily handle the international bandwidth.)

Still: this is welcome news. It conjures, to my mind, the Parade of Nations. All the various citizens of all the various countries march through, and, while it takes two hours, it is also all the nations. The planet holds all the humanity there is, and plays home to all the nations there are, and with this broadcast -- despite the English and the limited bandwidth -- the peoples and places which can see the Games has dramatically expanded. That's worth celebrating.

Here's the full list of the 64 territories which can view the Games online. In Asia:

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Bhutan, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

And Africa:

Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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