IT MAY HAVE TAKEN ABOUT two decades, but interactive television’s deployment era appears to be well underway.
Looking to engage more deeply with stat-hungry baseball fans while also driving live TV tune-in, Comcast has begun to roll out a data-driven integrated interactive feature for its X1 platform that analyzes and illustrates pitcher/hitter and team-to-team matchups, tracks fantasy points, computes win probabilities and shows where in the ballpark each batter tends to put the ball into play.
That “Baseball Extras” capability, offered before, during and after live Major League Baseball games, went live last week as an enhancement to the Xfinity Sports App for X1, Comcast’s IP-capable video platform.
In some ways, the new interactive elements, activated via the “C” button on the X1 remote or by launching the app from the guide menu, represent the commercial launch of the kind of same-screen interactive TV apps that cable operators and programmers have long envisioned, but have been slowed by outdated technology and the pursuit of other, more easily attainable revenue-driving endeavors such as video-on-demand.
Going forward, Comcast’s plan is to offer similar interactive features for other sports, including National Football League and college football games, NASCAR races, pro and college basketball games, National Hockey League games and professional soccer matches from several leagues, including Major League Soccer, England’s Barclays Premier League and other foreign leagues.
The platform is being built to support “all major sports,” Preston Smalley, Comcast’s executive director of product, explained during a demonstration of the Extras product.
Comcast is entering this new interactive game by licensing that data from several third parties. But to create the graphical renderings and illustrations that will accompany that data, Comcast is relying on a platform from OneTwoSee, a Philadelphia-based startup. The app itself is “native” to the X1 guide, meaning it comes in over Comcast’s managed IP network, not via a public Internet connection.
OneTwoSee also creates similar second-screen and smart TV experiences for partners such as Fox Sports, Canada’s TSN, YES Network and LG Electronics, but the work on Comcast’s X1 platform marks the company’s first integration at the set-top box level, cofounder and CEO Chris Reynolds said.
OneTwoSee’s platform is able to take a mountain of data from sporting events and turn them into easy-to-understand visuals, Reynolds said.
The commercial launch followed some earlier work Comcast and OneTwoSee did on X1 around some NFL playoff games, including the Super Bowl. OneTwoSee and Comcast also offered a more bare-boned version around some regional sports content.
Baseball Extras will be offered before, during and after game telecasts.
Before the game, viewers can pull up player and team statistics and a stat-rich graphical preview. During the game, the system will show the aforementioned matchup scenarios, present fantasy information and employ algorithms to determine a game’s general excitement level using a rating of one to 10. (Thuuz Sports, an outfit that counts Dish Network among its partners, offers a platform for mobile devices and set-tops that relies on an excitement scale of one to 100.) The Baseball Extras app will also offer a full post-game analysis.
While Sports Extras is currently offered on X1 only via set-tops, Smalley said Comcast would like to bring the same functionality to the platform’s Xfinity TV app for tablets, smartphones and PCs. In the meantime, the road map includes other features that will, for example, let X1 subs track their favorite teams via the app this fall, and, next year, expand that feature to cover specific players.
“We’re committed to this platform,” Smalley said. Comcast hasn’t said how many of its 22.3 million subs have X1, though it is on track to have the majority of its video customers on the platform by the end of 2016. Comcast has been deploying between 15,000 to 20,000 X1 boxes per day.
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