PHILADELPHIA — When Comcast Corp.'s Brian Roberts beat back Fox Sports and ESPN in Lausanne, Switzerland, to win the U.S. broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2020 for $4.4 billion, he and NBC executives vowed to Olympics officials they would not bask in NBC's past broadcast glory but would be innovative and present the games to new generations of fans.
A month later, in July 2011, Comcast and NBC executives gathered in a 51st-floor conference room at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia to talk about what that meant.
Ideas they tossed around — streaming every frame of every competition, 1,000 video-on-demand Olympics clips, a specialized guide and authentication to watch on tablets, smartphones, or laptops — will become reality with the opening ceremony of the London games, which will be shown tonight at 6:30 p.m. on KSL Ch. 5.
Comcast CEO Roberts said Comcast's coverage would be a "quantum leap" forward. "There is no company better positioned. We are going for it," said Roberts, whose Comcast is the nation's largest pay-TV company and largest residential high-speed Internet provider.
There could be some flubs, Roberts acknowledged, and Comcast/NBC will test the limits of its technology. But in a fragmented media landscape, one way to drive viewership and excitement is to take the Olympics and "blow it out onto every medium," he said.
The biggest challenge for Xfinity subscribers may be wading through 5,535 hours of Olympics coverage on multiple channels and websites crammed into the 17-day event.
ABC, by comparison, aired 48 hours of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
A team of dozens of Comcast employees, headed by Comcast Senior Vice President Matt Strauss, has been working for months on the Olympics project.
In the past three weeks, he and other Comcast employees from Philadelphia have been traveling to 22 Comcast call centers around the nation for one-on-one training with call-center reps to explain the coverage.
One of the tools to organize the content, Strauss said, is what Comcast calls the "ultimate viewer's guide," available at www.xfinity.com/nbcolympics. It enables subscribers to navigate the Olympics coverage and search by sport or athlete.
Subscribers also can program DVRs to record coverage of a specific athlete or sport, Strauss said.
Not only will the guide track the cable channels, it also knows what events will be streamed that day.
There will be on-demand clips for each medal-winning event, in addition to other clips, totaling more than 1,000.
Strauss said Comcast had had four million on-demand video views of Olympic trials competitions, more than for the entire Vancouver winter Olympics two years ago.
Comcast has updated its two mobile apps, the Xfinity Sports app and the Xfinity TV app, for the Olympics. Both will list the Olympic competitions available that day and where they can be found.
NBC has released two apps available free to Xfinity customers and others who subscribe to a pay-TV service: NBC Olympics Live Extra, which will stream the live games to a mobile device, and NBC Olympics, which will show highlights.
Authenticating — proving one is an Xfinity subscriber to access the Olympics live streaming on NBCOlympics.com — could be an aggravation for some subscribers. Comcast says it has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure it is not.
Xfinity subscribers with TV and high-speed Internet can access NBCOlympics.com in their homes and will not have to provide user names and passwords to verify they are a paying customer. Comcast's system will know and automatically give access.
Others — those who have only cable-TV service — will have to verify they are Xfinity subscribers for access to NBCOlympics.com. They can do that by providing a user name and password. If they don't have one, they can request help through www.mycomcast id.com /.
NBC has provided one "free pass" for viewers to watch the games live online for four hours. That is available to anyone with Internet access.
"Our goal is to allow customers to get access as easily and quickly as possible," Strauss said.
As for the big moneymaker in the Olympics rights package, the NBC prime-time show, Bob Costas will anchor.
Dick Ebersol, the famed sports head at NBC Sports who quit in a power struggle a year ago shortly after Comcast gained control of NBCUniversal, has been retained as a consultant.
NBC officials do not expect London to match the broadcast-TV viewership of the 2008 Beijing games. That was the most-watched spectacle in TV history, when 215 million viewers tuned in to watch swimmer Michael Phelps chase eight gold medals.
Now all that has to happen is that the weather has to cooperate.
"There has been a fair amount of rain but perhaps less than people have been reporting," Gary Zenkel, who heads NBC's Olympics business unit, said from London last week. "I believe, because I am an Olympic optimist, that on opening day, the sun will be shining."
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