How Comcast created the ultimate Rio Olympics viewing experience for X1 customers

Executive editors Natan Edelsburg (@twatan) and Adam Flomenbaum (@flobombin), and guest contributors, bring the inside track on the latest developments in the TV space.

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One of the main arguments Natan Edelsburg, the other executive editor of Found Remote, makes for continuing to pay for cable is that it is more convenient than cutting the cord. This, for now, is indisputable, but we are heading in a direction such that the only reason to subscribe to cable in the future – or, for current subscribers, to keep service – is because it offers something more.

Comcast customers with the company’s Xfinity X1 box will be getting “something more” for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Comcast, which is the parent company of NBCUniversal, the exclusive broadcaster of the Games, has created a new and extremely compelling experience for X1 subscribers called “Front Row to Rio.”

Last week at the Comcast Building in New York, Found Remote received a demo of the experience from Comcast’s Matt Strauss, executive vice president and general manager, video services, and Vito Forlenza, senior director, TV everywhere content & product strategy.

Prior to the demo, Strauss noted that the way people are consuming content has fundamentally changed –“people want what they want when they want it” – and Comcast has worked hard to meet new consumer demand and habits. Time shifting is a real phenomenon: 90 per cent of X1 customers use on demand every month, and nearly 50 per cent of all TV households have DVRs. Still, sports and other live events have been mostly immune to these trends, and with the Olympics capturing viewers attention for 17 straight days, Comcast saw a great opportunity to experiment with new features that would provide additional value to viewers during the Games, and also, as Strauss suggested, could be productized beyond the Olympics.

During this particular Olympics, “there will be more live coverage by lunch on the first day than the entire 17 days of the Atlanta Olympics combined,” Strauss said. Taking all of that coverage, then, and presenting it to viewers in a way that is organized and accessible would be no easy task, especially when “you step back and look at how people are watching television now: they’re choosing the platform and then the content.”

Strauss elaborated on that idea, saying that when viewers consider what to watch they go through the following process: “did I record it on my DVR, I select my DVR; do I want to watch it on demand, is it live, is it on the internet, do I need to switch inputs - and the platforms are almost defining the choices. What we wanted to do is almost become agnostic to that and say how do we take all these different choices - whether it’s a live feed on the internet, a live broadcast on NBC, a replay on demand, or a clip that’s coming from BuzzFeed - and seamlessly integrate them in one place and contextualize them in a way where it doesn’t matter where the choices are coming from.”

As Forlenza demonstrated, all customers need to do to access “Front Row to Rio” is to press the Xfinity button on their remotes, where the experience will be showcased on the main menu. In the spirit of integrating all content in one place, “Front Row to Rio” will show what each of the NBCU family of networks is broadcasting at that time, and this also will include the NBC Sports app to help ensure that all content is accessible.

More content choices sometimes make it harder for viewers to find something to watch. One of the best features of the experience is “favorites,” where viewers can save their favorite athletes, teams and nations throughout the Games. Viewers can select Kevin Durant, Michael Phelps, and Brazil, for example, and see specific highlights, interviews, and game action around those choices. For both casual and diehard viewers, this makes the Olympics much more manageable.

“Must see moments” is another feature that viewers will want to take advantage of. By opting in, viewers will receive notifications about can’t-miss moments. If viewers are watching an episode of the Tonight Show saved on their DVRs, they would get a notification when Usain Bolt was about to compete in the 100m – an event they may otherwise not have realized was on.

My favorite feature, though, is the companion experience while watching the actual games. In March, Comcast acquired the Philadelphia-based company OneTwoSee, which provides interactive sports data to viewers as a first-screen complement. Comcast had already been working with the company, whose product is integrated into the X1 offering and is very well received.

This OneTwoSee-powered experience is part of “Front Row” and viewers can see real-time medal counts, competition stats, and more information about athletes. Forlenza demonstrated what it would be like to use this feature during swimming events. By activating the experience, viewers will be able to see which lanes individual swimmers are in along with individual stats (viewers can also favorite athletes here).

The Federal Communications Commission’s “Unlock the Box” plan is no sure bet, and if it does go into effect, it will likely be in a different form first proposed by chairman Tom Wheeler. Nonetheless, Comcast has put itself in a great position to take on third-party competition (should it come to that) with its continued commitment to enhancing the X1.

People are consuming more video on mobile and tablet, but this, Strauss pointed out, has just resulted in more overall video consumption and not in a major reduction of viewing on TV. “When you actually look at where the majority of video consumption happens it’s still on the television, which is why we’re so committed to X1,” Strauss said. “With X1, we’re seeing improvements in churn reduction and increases in video consumption. During our first quarter earning we announced our best video quarter in nine years, which is in many ways not following the narrative that many reporters write about with cord cutting or cord shaving. Obviously you have to be very mindful of changing behaviors - both viewing and economic drivers -but we’re actually seeing very positive metrics when it comes to X1, which is contributing to our overall video growth.”

“Front Row” will appeal to all X1 subscribers watching the Games, and especially to sports fans. More, it will showcase the possibilities of TV – and of viewing TV on TVs - and it will give pause to those considering cutting the cord.

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