One, two, three, four, five. That’s how many mirrors it took for me to be able to watch the 2006 World Cup. This was a time before smart phone, tablets, or decent streaming options. I wanted to watch Brazil in pool play, but I also had to clean my kitchen and make dinner, so I devised a plan. I hung a mirror opposite my TV, angled slightly towards the dining room table. There, I set up another mirror facing the dining room wall, and another mirror. In the doorway between the dining room and kitchen I set a chair, upon which I placed yet another mirror. Finally, I set a mirror above my sink. Though my girlfriend rolled her eyes, this archaic set up allowed me to join in on watching the world’s most popular sporting event.
It’s nearly World Cup time again, which means that for many Americans it’s the one of two times each decade or so that they will devote significant time to watching soccer. I’ll admit that in my life I’ve been way more interested in football than in futbol. However, the World Cup got its hooks into me back in 1994 when the USA hosted the event, with games going on near my hometown. I remember Cameroon disappointing though they entered as tournament darlings, and watching the final shootout between Brazil and Italy. That 1994 World Cup was the launch point for Major League Soccer, by far the most successful pro-league in US history so far. Like many Americans, I followed the US women’s team much more closely than the men’s after Brandi Chastain’s thrilling shootout goal in 1998.
Even with that history, I never followed soccer closely, though I can still tell you some of the players from the San Jose Clash’s early roster (Eric Wynald’s knee was pretty funky). I followed the Copa enough over the intervening decades to be able to know what people were talking about the next day. I felt bad for Landon Donovan being left of the US roster in 2014, and loved his EA Sports commercial that ran during the tournament. Still, I sheepishly admit that when I see #USMNT trending on Twitter I expect to read news about an upcoming Ninja Turtles movie. But here’s the thing, the US didn’t qualify for the tournament this year. That’s got to be bad news for TV ratings, right? Maybe not.
According to Sports Illustrated, Mexico’s national team outdraws the USMNT on US soil and have played more than half of their games here since 2010. This explains why I’m hearing radio ads featuring El Tri (the team’s nickname) here in California. Sports Illustrated and others have gone as far as to christen El Tri as “America’s Team” for this year’s tournament. And why not? Latinos are the largest growing demographic in the country, not only in numbers, but also in consumption. According to the Census Bureau, Latinos make up 17.8% of the US population and 13% of Americans speak Spanish at home. The SI article notes that Soccer United Marketing has found that 72% of Mexican National team fans in the US are second generation Americans or higher. Also from the SI article:
“There’s no denying the Hispanic demographic in the United States,” says David Neal, who experienced its heft at Univision before becoming VP of production for Fox Sports in 2012. “It’s the latest growing demo and shows no signs of slowing down. That’s a simple fact. You would be in error to not pay attention to that simple fact, and it coincides with the explosive growth of the game.”
With all this in mind, I jumped at the chance to preview Xfinity’s new World Cup offerings through X1. It’s clear that the people at Comcast have seen the same thing as Neal, and this year they’re doing what they can to capture not only El Tri fans, but the entire Latino market. Xfinity has been growing their overall non-English speaking offerings in recent years, and they are excited about their entry into a crowded sports app/video integration market. So, does Xfinity’s overall product offer more to Latino fans? I was treated to a one-on-one preview of Xfinity’s new fully integrated World Cup viewing experience at the CNET Smart Home in San Francisco where I met with Preston Smalley, VP of Product and Technology for Comcast. Mr. Smalley walked me through the app’s impressive array of features, many of which will look familiar to subscribers who watched Olympic coverage through X1 last year. For the uninitiated, the app’s general navigation works much like any other streaming video app. Where the World Cup experience stands out is in its alerts, enhanced viewing options and mobility. I’m not going to try to enumerate all the app’s features, you can take a look at their fact sheet if you’re curious about how much the app provides (including 4K replays of archived games and various highlight package channels). For me as a sports fan one of the best features are the various reminders, so you never miss a match or get confused by the time zone shifts. The World Cup experience on Xfinity allows you to set favorite teams, and will send an on-screen reminder to all of your connected TVs when a match for your club is about to start. The system can also be set to send you an SMS message when matches are about to start. Clicking on this message opens your X1 mobile app, which allows you to watch on almost any device. No more need for elaborate systems of mirrors so you can see your TV from the kitchen. Some of the enhanced viewing options that will appeal to stat heads like me include shot charts, game stats and game summaries, all of which can be called up and displayed on the right-hand side of the screen.
OK, cool tech stuff, but how does this help Latino fans? Glad you asked, because this might be the coolest part. The World Cup app is able to pull in games feeds from both Fox/FS1 and Telemundo. Fans who want Spanish language broadcasts won’t have to search for them or worry about setting it to SAP, the broadcast option is available on the home screen. But it goes deeper. X1’s voice remote can be set to Spanish by saying “Español” into the remote. After that, you can use Spanish voice commands and the on-screen menus, stats and other text content will be presented in Spanish. This includes all of the X1 search commands. So if you want to find El Tri you can say “México contra Alemania” into the remote, the app will find America’s (other) Team playing Germany and display it for you. The “Español” command will default your app to the Telemundo broadcasts. The bilingual features are also available across X1’s mobile options. Throughout the morning, Comcast’s representatives stressed their commitment to multicultural audiences in general, and Latino audiences in particular. Comcast/Xfinity has 7 million Spanish-speaking households in their subscriber base. It’s clear that they intend to hold onto these subscribers, and attempt to attract more, by offering programming and features for bilingual/bicultural households that don’t feel like afterthoughts. Speaking with a member of Comcast’s multicultural programming group, it was clear that the company is actively figuring out how to engage all Americans with programming and features tailored to their needs. The Xfinity World Cup app is an impressive example of that commitment. Now what am I going to do with all these mirrors?