Comcast To Trot Out New Tech, Features For Sochi Games

MSO to Test Start Over-Like ‘Instant On Demand’ Feature, Port TV Everywhere App To X1 Platform, Show Off 4K
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Philadelphia -- Comcast and NBCUniversal plan to try out and break out some new technologies, services and features as part of their extensive multiscreen coverage of the Sochi Games, which are set to run from February 6 through February 24.

As part a demonstration here at the Comcast Center Thursday, execs said those plans include  limited market trials of an emerging feature called “Instant On Demand,” the porting of the NBC Sports Live Extra app to the MSO’s new IP-capable X1 TV platform, and 4K viewing parties in select markets that will showcase clips and highlights from the games in the Ultra HD format.

Instant On Demand Trial

Offering shades of the Start Over service pioneered by Time Warner Cable, Comcast’s trial of Instant On Demand will allow customers to restart NBC’s primetime coverage of the games immediately after it starts via the MSO’s set-top box VOD platform. Also like Start Over, Comcast’s Instant On Demand won’t allow viewers to fast-forward through commercials.

Comcast, which also tested the feature for NBC’s highly-rated Sound Of Music Live! last month, said it will test Instant On Demand for the Sochi Games in six local markets: Philadelphia; New York; Atlantic City; Boston; Portland, Maine; and Providence, R.I.

Each evening during the games, the Instant On Demand file of NBC’s primetime coverage will also tack on the local NBC news broadcast.

Comcast has not announced plans to extend Instant On Demand to other programming on a going-forward basis, but officials said the games will give the operator another opportunity to kick the tires on it before attempting to scale it up further.

TV Everywhere Meets The X1

Comcast will test the IP video streaming mettle of its cloud-based X1 platform by porting the NBC Sports Live Extra TV Everywhere to the set-top (see image above), a move that will allow those customers to view the app’s content, which will include more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage and on-demand fare, on the TV screen, as well as on smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Comcast is the only pay-TV operator that is integrating the app with the TV for next month’s Olympics. Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated the combo at a Citi event earlier this month in Las Vegas. At the time, he estimated that about 1 million users were on the X1.

Comcast will stream video to X1 via the app in MPEG-4/H.264 using adaptive bit rate techniques, believing that it will need about 3 Mbps to 3.5 Mbps to deliver those IP streams in HD.

Showing Off 4K

At the International CES earlier this month, Comcast EVP and CTO Tony Werner hinted that the MSO and NBCU planned to use the games to help “stimulate the imagination” about 4K/Ultra HD.

Comcast and NBCU won’t provide any live coverage of the games in the pixel-packed format, but they do plan to put on invitation-only, 4K viewing parties in Washington, D.C.; San Francisco; and Philadelphia, that will show highlights and clips from the Games produced in Ultra HD. Comcast will be putting on other viewing parties in other markets, but without the 4K showcase.  

Authentication Improvements

Comcast also hopes to break down barriers and boost TV Everywhere usage by taking advantage of an automated in-home authentication feature that it also put into play for the 2012 London Summer Games.

In addition to the in-home auto-sign in, Comcast will also lean on a feature that lets customers sign-in with their Facebook credentials (that’s been in-use for about six months, the company said), and a 30-minute temporary pass that customers can use once during the Sochi Games to access TVE content without inputting their credentials.

Comcast is also trying to make it easier for customers to track down their credentials at whilst they are on the go. If customers don’t have access to their account numbers, the system has been set up to help them locate their login data using other easily located or recalled information, such as date of birth, the last four digits of the account holder’s Social Security Number, or the customer’s home address.

For new customers and existing subscribers that are upgrading to a level of service that includes TV Everywhere rights, the operator has also created a system that provides them with immediate credentials that enables them to access Olympics content on the Web or via the mobile apps. This set-up means they can log in and start using those apps before any new in-home equipment is installed.