Comcast Goes for Gold With Olympics Tech Tests

PHILADELPHIA — Comcast and NBCUniversal will use next month’s Winter Olympics to test and incubate a few new technologies and features that, if they’re successful and popular, might have a shot at becoming part of the MSO’s everyday lineup.

As part of a wide-ranging demonstration at the Comcast Center last week, designed to show off elements of Comcast’s multiscreen plans for the game telecasts from Sochi, Russia, executives noted that they include limited market trials of a feature called “Instant On Demand” and the porting of the NBC Sports Live Extra app to Comcast’s IP-capable X1 TV platform.

That combination will let users stream live and on-demand video to the TV directly from an app that is typically limited to PC browsers, smartphones and tablets.


Comcast’s test of Instant On Demand, a feature that shares traits with the “Start Over” service pioneered by Time Warner Cable, will allow customers to restart NBC’s primetime coverage of the games immediately after it begins, using the Xfinity On Demand service for set-top boxes.

In another nod to the Start Over model, Comcast’s Instant On Demand test will look to preserve the commercials by disabling the fastforward function.

Comcast, which also tried out the concept for NBC’s presentation of The Sound of Music Live! last month, said it will test the feature for the Sochi Games in six local markets: Philadelphia; New York; Atlantic City, N.J.; Boston; Portland, Maine; and Providence, R.I. Each evening during the games, Instant On Demand coverage of NBC’s primetime show 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 offi cials said the games will give the operator another opportunity to kick the tires on it.


Comcast’s X1 platform is powered by boxes and gateways outfitted with DOCSIS 3.0 modems, enabling the ability to stream video and further blurring the lines between QAM- and IP-delivered content. The Olympics will give Comcast a unique opportunity to see how well this hybrid approach can work.

Comcast will test the IP video streaming capabilities of X1 by integrating the NBC Sports Live Extra TV Everywhere app with the set-top. 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 big screen, Comcast said.

Comcast is the only pay TV operator linking the NBC Sports app to the TV for the Sochi Games. The event will give Comcast the chance to test the idea on a somewhat limited scale and perhaps set the stage for something even bigger for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Comcast has rolled out X1 to the bulk of its footprint, but wouldn’t say how many customers are currently on the platform.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said about 1 million customers were using X1 when he demonstrated the NBC Sports app running on X1 at a Citi event earlier this month in Las Vegas.

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, officials said.


Comcast’s multiscreen plans for the Sochi Games include TVE app integration with the set-top and an “Instant On Demand” feature similar to Time Warner Cable’s “Start Over” service.