First, there were a few cable channels.
Now Comcast Corp. is talking infinite.
Comcast says it will make available 50 “virtual” channels for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea — a precursor to personalized television. Each virtual channel will air only content on specific Olympic sports and athletes. The channels will be accessed through the Xfinity television remote.
Comcast executive Matt Strauss said Tuesday that virtual channels should be considered similar to playlists on music-streaming platforms Pandora or Spotify. “We are doing the same thing now with video,” he said.
Comcast editorial employees at the company headquarters in Philadelphia will “stitch together” the Olympic NBC content for these virtual channels, updating the channels daily. Strauss, executive vice president for Xfinity services in Comcast Cable, said that eventually computers could create the virtual channels for consumers, making the channels broadly available. He called the idea of virtual cable channels a potential game-changer for the television business that could challenge the idea of “what it means to be a channel or a network.”
Comcast — which acquired the Olympics-airing NBC in 2011 — is showcasing its latest technology for the games. Other advances include the ability for Xfinity customers to stream Olympics content onto their smart phones, tablets or computers using the Xfinity Stream app outside of their homes. Comcast also will make some Olympics content available for high-resolution 4K televisions.
NBC will begin televising the games from South Korea on Thursday. The closing ceremony will be Feb. 25.
The games are part of what Comcast and NBC are calling their “best ever” February. NBC just televised the Super Bowl with the Eagles and the Patriots, which could have been the biggest TV event of the year in terms of its audience.
Sunday’s game drew a 43.1 million Nielsen rating, with 103.4 million viewers in 51 million homes. Though a big draw, Sunday’s game carried the lowest national Nielsen score for a Super Bowl since the 2009 game between Arizona and Pittsburgh which was also televised on NBC and had a 42 Nielsen rating.
Philadelphia stood out as the hometown Eagles won the big game, recording its highest rating for a Super Bowl with a 56.2 Nielsen rating. This means that 56.2 percent of the homes with televisions throughout the Philadelphia region, the nation’s fourth-largest TV market, tuned in to the game. Basically eight of 10 televisions that were turned on had on the Super Bowl. Among so-called metered television markets, only the long-suffering Bills fans in Buffalo scored a higher Nielsen rating on Sunday.
The 2018 Winter Olympics will also be some of the most-watched television of 2018. And Comcast makes a big deal of it on its big cable-distribution platform for the Olympic games to boost ratings for its NBCUniversal unit, which has spent billions of dollars on the U.S. television rights to the Olympics through 2032.
Strauss said that Comcast has added functionality on its voice-control TV remote. During figure skating competitions, for example, an Xfinity subscriber can say into the remote “what song is playing?” and the television will answer it on the screen.