Over the past few Olympics, NBC has shown more live coverage over the Internet than it has on TV. For the upcoming Winter Games, Comcast's Xfinity TV subscribers will be able to tap the breadth of that online coverage on their big screens.
For the first time, subscribers who use Comcast Corp.'s latest-generation X1 video set-top box will be able to access content that had once been "digital only."
That includes use of the NBC Sports Live Extra app on big-screen TVs. This year, the app will include a buffed-up version of a live program called "Gold Zone." It will cut in and out of medal events and recap highlights. This time, it will also have hosts and a studio, similar to football's NFL RedZone channel. Live streaming of events and other coverage from Sochi, Russia, will also be available on the TV through the X1 box.
All told, NBC is streaming more than 1,000 hours of live event coverage online. For the first time, that will include popular events such as figure skating. At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver four years ago, live coverage online was limited to curling and ice hockey, plus some training runs, and only 430 hours of online coverage was live.
Subscribers of other pay TV companies will be able to catch the "Gold Zone" and other online coverage only on computers, tablets and mobile phones — at least without connecting cables to the TV. Verification through the X1 is automatic, as it will be for some subscribers of other services that can recognize if you're on your home Wi-Fi network.
The change is one further step in the TV industry's evolution to become a platform delivered via the Internet. Because the X1 box can handle the HTML 5 Internet programming language, it was easy to repurpose the app, the company said.
It's also an example of the benefits Comcast Corp. can reap by owning NBCUniversal, which it purchased in 2011.
"Gold Zone" will be hosted by Andrew Siciliano, the host of DirecTV's "NFL Sunday Ticket Red Zone," and Ryan Burr, an NBC Sports and Golf Channel journalist. The show will stream as live events play out in Russia from about 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern time in the U.S.
When the online show ends, NBC will typically have two hours of afternoon coverage starting at 3 p.m. EST and three hours in prime time starting at 8 p.m. EST. Broadcasts will be delayed outside the Eastern and Central time zones. Other affiliated pay TV networks — USA, MSNBC, CNBC and NBC Sports Network — will carry other events as well.
When X1 users turn on the TV, they will be notified of what Olympic events are coming up and on which channels if they tap the "info" button on their remote controls.
In a handful of test markets — including Boston, Philadelphia and parts of New York state — X1 users will also be able to watch competition from the beginning if they show up a bit late, a feature the company is calling "Instant Video on Demand." Fast-forwarding of ads will be disabled, however.
Comcast doesn't say how many of its customers use X1. It's available to all new customers who subscribe to at least three services — video, voice and data. Existing customers can ask for X1 and may be required to pay for an upgrade. Getting one isn't guaranteed.
NBC plans to make money on the Olympics, thanks in part to heavy use of its multiple TV and online networks. Its motto this year reflects its intention to blanket the Olympics: "Every Minute. Every Medal. Every Screen." So far, it has sold some $800 million worth of ads — more than $50 million of which are from digital platforms — while covering the Sochi games cost it $775 million in licensing fees.
It has also learned a lesson from the London Games and has decided not to tape-delay marquee events in order to boost prime-time TV ratings. In fact, NBC said Thursday that it found those who watched live streaming online were more likely to tune in later on television.
The exception to the live streaming is the opening ceremony, which will be broadcast on NBC at 7:30 p.m. EST on Feb. 7, about nine hours after the event happens.
The Olympics run from Feb. 6 to 23, with some events taking place before the opening ceremony.