July 23, 2012
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 this week with the opening ceremony of the London games on Friday. Comcast CEO Roberts said Friday 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. It has about 1.5 million TV subscribers in the Philadelphia area. 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.
Over the last 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 among the 32 sports 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 www.nbcolympics.com - could be an aggravation for some subscribers. Comcast says it has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure it is not. Double-play Xfinity subscribers, those with TV and high-speed Internet, can access www.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 www.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.mycomcastid.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.
Coverage begins - two days before Friday's opening ceremony - on MSNBC on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. with a women's soccer match between Britain and New Zealand in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. 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." Philadelphia Inquirer
Opponents of bureaucracy and inefficiency should rejoice. This week, Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission unanimously voted to peel away more red tape from its procedures. The proposed measure would limit the number of paper copies necessary when submitting a formal statement to the commission.
In a world where nearly everything can be done online, it's a welcome change. Just as important, this shift illustrates the increasing government embrace of technology.
The Public Utility Commission provides a necessary service to Pennsylvanians as it is tasked with maintaining oversight of the state's more than 6,000 electricity, telecommunications, water/wastewater and transportation utilities. This means it is the job of the PUC to regulate electricity distribution and water rates, inspect natural gas pipelines and ensure a fair telecommunications market among other duties. With such diverse yet important responsibilities, the agency's five governing commissioners made the wise decision of reducing unnecessary paperwork. The change should save time and money and speed up the time it takes to post various utility documents and proceedings online.
Other governmental departments and agencies also should take note of the PUC's acceptance of electronic documents as it came at the suggestion of a committee comprised of outside consultants and internal staff. This newspaper has advocated strongly for making electronic filing of campaign finance reports the norm, for example. Although state government has taken steps in the right direction such as the digitization of legislation and the civil service application, there's more red tape to cut down. Harrisburg Patriot-News
- Orange County (CA) Reister: After DirecTV/Viacom spat, cable and satellite wars will only continue
- Associated Press: DirecTV, Viacom fight to draw in channel punch-out
- Wall Street Journal: Twitter Embraces Olympics To Train for the Big Time(registration may be required)
- Los Angeles Times: Sports programming on a fast track of expansion
- Associated Press: News Corp. approves Murdoch plan to split company
- Politico: Supporters eager to move cyberbill
- New York Times: Two Units of AT&T Reach Pacts With Union
- San Francisco Chronicle: Guest editorial by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA): Internet's openness threatened by politics
- Bloomberg: Facebook Earnings Call Offers Shot at Rebuilding Image