Comcast X1 to deploy 50 virtual channels, 4K HDR for Winter Olympics coverage

Comcast is once again building an Olympics content hub for its X1 platform. (Image: Comcast)

Despite highly disappointing ratings for the Rio Summer Olympic Games in 2016, Comcast is once again pulling out all the stops in regard to its pay TV platforms for the upcoming Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. 

Comcast’s NBCUniversal division is paying $7.7 billion to license coverage of the Olympics through 2032. And with NBCU committed to more than 2,400 hours of live and on-demand PyeongChang coverage across its broadcast, cable and digital channels, the cable operator is once again making X1 a showcase for the event.

RELATED: Comcast/NBCU’s Olympics viewership dropped 15% as ‘nightmare’ comes true

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Users of Comcast’s X1 video platform, as well as the multiscreen Xfinity Stream app and web portal, will once again have a robust “Olympics dashboard” presented to them in order to navigate NBCU’s vast coverage menu. 

X1 users will have access to 50 Olympics-focused "virtual" channels. These IP-based channels, set up specifically for the Winter Games, can be controlled with the X1 Voice Remote, which has been enhanced to respond to more than 1,500 Olympics-specific commands. 

NBCU is also broadcasting a limited amount of programming on demand in 4K HDR with Dolby Atmos three-dimensional sound. Comcast began shipping 4K HDR-capable set-tops to X1 users back in November, but the company hasn’t said just how many of those subscribers have the devices at this point. 

“Our goal is to raise the bar for the modern-day Olympics viewing experience across platforms, and experiment with new features and functionality that will surprise and delight our customers in exciting new ways,” said Matt Strauss, executive VP of Xfinity services, in a statement. “With 50 new virtual channels dedicated to the PyeongChang Games, enhanced voice control, medal counts, real-time stats and daily summaries, we are excited for X1 customers to experience the Olympic Games like never before. And by creating one go-to destination for all Olympics coverage across devices on Xfinity Stream, all Xfinity TV customers can access every moment of every event on their favorite devices, at home or anywhere in the country.”

Viewership of Comcast/NBCUniversal’s coverage of the Rio Olympic Games dropped 15% over the 2012 London Olympics, drawing concern not only about the conglomerate’s multi-billion-dollar investment in the Games, but also the fate of linear television.

In Nielsen’s Total Audience Delivery metric, which measures linear viewership across cable and broadcast channels, as well as streaming platforms, NBCU networks averaged 26 million viewers across 17 days of Rio Olympics coverage. 

That was down 15% from the 31.1 million viewers averaged during the London Games four years earlier. 

NBCU ended up having to give additional ad inventory away to sponsors during its Closing Ceremonies coverage to make up for a fairly wide ratings shortfall.

Still, NBCU CEO Steve Burke said before the Rio Olympics that ad sales were exceeding the 2012 London Olympic Games in profitability. The London Games, he said, yielded a tidy profit of $120 million.