Comcast struggles to line up customer service ducks on 4K/HDR Olympics coverage

X1 Winter Olympics home page
(Comcast)

Comcast hopes to leverage the billions of dollars it's spending to broadcast the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games to showcase the evolving 4K and HDR capabilities of its X1 platform, but it appears to be challenged in regard to coordination and execution within its customer service ranks. 

Case in point is Seattle resident and Ars Technica writer Sam Machkovech, who went down the rabbit hole with Comcast reps as he attempted to find out how to stream the upcoming games in the next-generation formats. 

Machkovech was ultimately told by a local service center manager that Comcast’s network isn’t set up to deliver 4K video in the Seattle area (an assertion that was later denied by Comcast HQ in Philadelphia). Getting to that point, however, entailed an investment for Machkovech. 

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“Figuring this out required 47 minutes on multiple Comcast customer service calls in which I was bounced to multiple reps,” he wrote. “Most of them didn't understand what kind of TV viewing I sought. (One of them asked me questions about this ‘4D’ television I was talking about.) The first agent suggested I use Xfinity Instant TV, which is an app-only way to access Comcast's TV content, but I reminded her that this app doesn't support a 4K signal. The second agent advised me to utilize a certain URL to access paid TV content, but it didn't work, as I don't currently pay for Comcast TV services. Then I was told to boot a Netflix app through an Xfinity X1 set-top box but, again, I don't pay for Comcast TV services, let alone have an X1 box."

Machkovech was finally able to get a call center manager on the phone, who better broke down what was needed: “a 4K-compatible X1 set-top box, a subscription to any Comcast television package (even the most basic one), and support for 4K content in my region's network. Despite the fact that my home Internet connection peaks at 250Mbps and can chew through Netflix and Amazon Video 4K content, however, Comcast apparently doesn't have its Seattle network ducks in a row—at least, according to the manager who tried to sell me a $69.95/mo ‘basic cable’ service as a no-contract-required add-on.”

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The kicker: Machkovech was later called by a Comcast PR rep and told that the company delivers on-demand access to Olympics 4K content to its entire North America footprint via X1.

“We are sorry that it took our customer this long to get accurate information," a Comcast rep told Fierce in an email sent this afternoon. "All Xfinity customers, across our footprint, have access to our 4K X1 set-top box and available 4K programming, including NBC’s 4K Olympic coverage. Keeping our customers informed is critical and we are re-distributing the information about this new 4K service to all of our agents to ensure that this does not happen again.”

Comcast, which is paying $7.75 billion to the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the games through 2032, has billed 4K/HDR coverage as a centerpiece of its robust X1 coverage plan. Comcast is also serving as an intermediary between the onsite broadcast production being overseen by Olympic Broadcasting Services and NHK Japan and U.S. distribution partners, which include Dish Network and DirecTV. 

Machkovech noted that both satellite TV companies are doing little to promote their access to 4K/HDR content coming out of Pyeongchang. The coverage, he noted, is confined to a limited number of events and is only available for viewing on a delayed basis, none of it on-demand. 

The Ars writer’s quest to find a viewing alternative that provided on-demand 4K coverage sent him through the bowels of Comcast.