NBC plans to broadcast live every event of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, a heavy lift and gold test for Comcast (News - Alert)'s X1 technology. Cable subscribers will be able to access either TV or online the equivalent of over 250 days of non-stop video on a 24 hour basis. It's a monstrous amount of content to capture, archive and make accessible to the company's over 22 million subscribers.
"This is the future of television," said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts in an interview with Bloomberg (News - Alert) Technology. And he may be right, but there's big money at stake. Comcast initially shelled out $4.4 billion for this year's Olympics broadcast rights and added another $7.75 billion two years ago to secure rights through 2031. NBC has already collected over $1 billion in advertising for this year's Summer games.
Comcast is using its X1 technology as the front end for its customers to search and access all the video content, helped by a voice-control remote to search Olympic coverage by event, athlete or country. Viewers will be able to get alerts when athletes are close to winning events. Other features are likely to be added as the company takes advantage of the ability to add new capabilities and apps and push them out in regular updates over broadband.
X1 needs to continue to upgrade its game due to ongoing threats from over the top services, ranging from Netflix to Dish Network's Sling TV. Cord cutting continues to be a concern, as consumers bypass and give up dedicated TV services for broadband offerings. Comcast has shown it is willing to add outside technology to enhance its offerings, including WebRTC. The company is also planning to leverage mobile video platform such as Periscope and Facebook (News - Alert) Live, allowing customers to share video through X1 to a larger audience.
The Olympics ensure that Comcast and NBC will be a "go to" location for content, but what about the other 10 to 11 months of the year? It is likely NBC will follow the path being pioneered by CBS, which plans to release a new, streaming-only version of "Star Trek" in 2017. NBC Universal (News - Alert) has a vast library of content and has the option of creating its own streaming-only content. Combine with its existing library, NBC could prove to be a potent balance against successful, online-only ventures such as Netflix and Amazon.
The biggest question for Comcast is if it makes unique NBC streaming content a "universal" offering available outside of its paid cable garden. Juggling a cable-based X1 offering with its higher profit margins against a barebones $10 to $20 per month broadband-only service might be difficult if it starts to eat into the current X1 cable TV customer subscription basis. But Comcast may choose to offer both under the philosophy it is better to eat its own profits while retaining its customer base than to let those customers spend money on other services where it gets zero dollars.
Edited by Maurice Nagle