With the Winter Games in Sochi just getting underway, Olympics fans will have an easier time than ever following the event, thanks to new technologies being embraced by NBC and pay TV providers.
Consumers will have access to more video than ever before from an Olympics, and will be able to watch some of the less popular events on their televisions more easily. Fans interested in only the most exciting moments -- and who can do without the overwrought profiles of athletes and other emotional "fillers" -- will be able to cut straight to the action.
And some Comcast subscribers will find it much easier to watch their favorite athletes perform, will be able to get updated scores and medal counts directly on their televisions and be able to tune into particular events as they're happening by clicking on a link from Twitter.
"The Olympics are a big moment for NBC and Comcast," said Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer for Comcast. He added that the Games are where the companies "push our technological capabilities."
In the past, NBC, which has carried the Olympics for many years, has limited the amount of video available or constrained where consumers could watch it. The Sochi Games mark the first time that every event will be streamed live online. That will total some 1,000 hours worth of coverage, more than double what was available for live streaming at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
But NBC isn't just offering more video. It's working with its partners, particular corporate parent Comcast, to make it easier for viewers to find and watch it.
One new feature involves a service called SEEiT, which Comcast announced in December. It allows the company's customers to click on a link in a Twitter post to instantly either tune in a show on their televisions or mobile devices or set their DVR to record it. The company plans to use SEEiT extensively during the Games to promote events on Twitter.
However, many of Comcast's new Olympics-related features are available only to customers who have its recently released X1 set-top box. That box provides advanced capabilities, such as the ability to run apps and to access menus and program guides that are stored in the cloud rather than on the device.
Comcast hasn't said yet how many of its customers have the X1, other than that they number in the millions. But it's safe to say that the number of customers who have them is a fraction of its total subscriber base.
One new feature coming to the X1 for the Olympics is the ability to run a version of the same NBC app previously available only for smartphones and tablets that provides streaming video from the Games. That app, dubbed NBC Sports Live Extra, will offer the bulk of the video available from the Games and offer the only coverage of some less popular events.
It marks the first time the app has been available on a set-top box and the first time that Olympics coverage streamed over the Internet has been easily available on a TV. In the past, if you wanted such streaming video on your TV, you either had to plug your computer into your television or use a program to wirelessly stream video from your computer to it.
The app could prove popular with Comcast customers, said Brett Sappington, a director of research at Parks Associates, a consulting firm.
Consumers "want the video they can get on their phone (and) see it on the biggest screen they can," he said. "It's not really the app itself that consumers care about, it's the content that it provides."
Comcast is offering other new features for X1 users. Those subscribers will find areas on their set-top box that allow them to quickly access coverage of particular athletes or events. Fans of Shaun White, for example, can click on a link to coverage just about him, and set their DVRs to record his upcoming events.
Comcast is also revamping the X1's Sports app for the Olympics. Users who run the app will find medal counts, up-to-date scores and information from ongoing events and the ability to immediate tune in to coverage of those sports.
AT&T U-verse customers will find a similar application available on their cable boxes. Subscribers who open the U-verse Olympic TV App can see updated medal counts, view prerecorded videos from the Games and even see a "multi-cast" view, where they can watch up to four video streams at once from the various NBC networks that are covering the event.
As with the sports apps, some Olympics-related features will be available more broadly than just to certain Comcast or AT&T customers. One notable feature is a service called Gold Zone, which will be available through NBC's website.
The feature is inspired by the NFL's RedZone channel, which jumps from game to game, tuning into particular contests only when a team nears the end zone. Gold Zone will similarly jump from event to event within the Sochi Games, but will focus on the finish lines of particular contests and of winning moments within them.
The new features that Comcast and other pay TV operators are making available come as Comcast in particular has been losing subscribers, noted Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst. The company is trying to use technology to better retain existing customers and to lure new ones, he said.
"Comcast has been trying their hardest in last several quarters to turn ship around," Kagan said.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
New tech for Olympics
NBC, Comcast and other companies are offering new features to help consumers more easily view and keep track of the games. Here are some of the new offerings:
Lots of streaming: You've been able to watch streaming video from the Olympics for years. But the Sochi Games marks the first time that all events will be available via live streaming.
Streaming to the TV: Comcast will offer a new app for users of its X1 set-top box that will allow them to view all the streaming video from the Olympics directly on their TVs.
App: Both Comcast and AT&T's U-verse service will offer apps on their set-top boxes that will allow users to see updated medal counts and easily tune in live events as they are happening. The U-verse app also will show viewers up to four streams of Olympics video from NBC's networks.
Going for the Gold: A new online channel from NBC, dubbed the Gold Zone, will jump from event to event showcasing finish lines and "winning moments."
Believe it, you can SEEiT: With a new feature called SEEiT, Comcast users can click on links in Twitter posts to tune in live Olympics events or set their DVRs to record upcoming ones.
Mercury News research