Four years ago, NBC and its parent company Comcast found themselves facing a barrage of criticism for their treatment of the 2012 Olympics. While the network had partnered with YouTube to stream all the Olympic events live online, customers who watched the old-fashioned way—through their TVs—had to wait until prime time for broadcasts of the most anticipated events, such as Michael Phelps’s history-making swimming performances, and Gabby Douglas’s eye-popping floor routines.
Tape-delayed Olympic events were not at all a new complaint in 2012, but they were especially grating to customers in the era of Twitter, where the hashtag #NBCfail was trending at the time. Incensed viewers demanded to know why they were forced to resort to iffy broadband streams if they wanted to watch marquee events in real-time. Those who weren’t streaming complained about the flood of spoilers about the outcomes of the games, which were known hours before they made their way to American televisions. Television-industry watchers, such as The Atlantic’s own Derek Thompson, explained why NBC didn’t care that people wanted to watch the Olympics live on TV. (The answer: money. Go read Derek for more.)
But this year, Brian Roberts, Comcast’s CEO and chairman, has been making the rounds to say that his company actually does care. In a panel on Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, Roberts touted how a plurality of Comcast’s Xfinity customers will be able to experience the Olympics on their TVs. Alongside his interviewer, Walter Isaacson, and the longtime NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, Roberts painted a vision of how NBC and Comcast are taking advantage of the biggest live event of the year. Comcast is viewing the Olympics as an opportunity to demonstrate to cable subscribers the features of its new X1 set-top boxes, which will offer access to a searchable database of real-time, high-definition Olympics streams—much like, well, a computer or a phone. In all, subscribers with an X1 box will be granted access to more than 6,000 hours of athletic wonder.