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Comcast Gears Up for Rio Games

With the 2016 Olympics starting today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Light Reading wanted to know how Comcast is getting ready for the events. The huge US MSO serves nearly 24 million broadband subscribers, many of whom will be watching the Rio Games online, and more than 22 million pay-TV subscribers, roughly 40% of whom will have access to new IP-based features during the Olympics on Comcast's X1 platform.

In earlier stories, we've spelled out how Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s DirecTV unit and Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) plan to distribute NBC Sports' massive coverage of the two-week sports extravaganza for the American audience. Here's what Matt Zelesko, senior vice president of software development engineering for Comcast, had to say about his company's preparations for the Rio Games in an email Q&A with us this week. (See AT&T & Dish Mix 4K Into Olympics Coverage.)

Light Reading: What have been some of the challenges of integrating IP-based content (like stats, clips, etc.) with traditional broadcast streams?

Matt Zelesko: One of the best things about the X1 Rio Olympics experience happens to be one of the greatest challenges. We're delivering an enormous volume of content to X1 users -- significantly more than 6,000 hours of video -- and we needed to present it in a manner that is easy and fun to navigate. It was important, from a design perspective, to be able to deliver a seamless experience, so that customers could easily navigate and transition between live linear channels, VOD and Internet extras.

Thankfully we weren't starting from scratch. We built the experience on the shoulders of the platform that already existed in X1, taking advantage of X1's robust cloud-based micro-services architecture, as well as advancements like our sports app, natural language processing engine, intelligent metadata and IP stream processing, among others.

We drew on the collected talents of more than 300 technologists, product and operations people to create what we believe will be the best Olympics experience ever.

For the first time, viewers can personalize their viewing experience by following featured athletes, teams and nations; search all Olympic content with their voices; and keep up with real-time results, medal counts, advanced data and analytics, schedules and highlights with the sports companion app.

Combined with a host of new and enhanced features available on the X1 platform, we are enabling viewers to customize and control their Olympics experience to focus on the people, events and moments they care about most.

LR: How is Comcast optimizing video for delivery? (use of ABR, compression techniques, etc.)

MZ: We take a number of approaches to make sure we're delivering the highest-quality video to our customers. It starts with sourcing higher-quality mezzanine or mezzanine-like source content, and includes our continuous commitment to research, development and innovation on compression technologies.

LR: Will Comcast deliver any of the NBCU Olympics coverage in 4K, as AT&T has announced it's doing?

MZ: Yes, we are offering all of NBC's 4k content, which is expected to be 83 hours of coverage over the 17 days, including the opening ceremony in HDR. We're making the full catalog available in the Xfinity in UHD app on Samsung and LG Smart UHD televisions.

LR: How might the work you've done to prepare for the Olympics impact the X1 platform in the future?

MZ: While the Rio Olympics represent a unique television experience, virtually all of the features we've built to deliver that experience are applicable elsewhere. We are continuously iterating on X1, delivering new code and features on a weekly -- or even daily -- basis. We think that ethos of ongoing innovation is what keeps the X1 experience fresh for our customers.

So let the games begin!

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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