Making XFINITY accessible for all
About 19 million U.S. households have at least one member with a disability. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 8.1 million people are visually impaired. We are committed to ensuring all customers can benefit from media and technology, so we are continuing to enhance the accessibility features of our XFINITY TV platform.
In 2014, we launched the industry’s first voice-enabled television user interface, enabling blind and visually impaired customers to search for and discover their favorite XFINITY TV programming. The result of years of customer research, focus groups, and collaboration with the blind community, the "talking guide" reads aloud channel names, networks, program titles, and time slots, as well as DVR and On Demand settings and commands.
Tom Wlodkowski, Vice President of Accessibility for Comcast Cable, believes that accessibility must begin on the drawing board and be baked into the design and development process of our products. "If you reach out to the disability community once the product is built, and you think you have an accessible experience, it’s too late," says Tom.
He adds that there’s no reason the solutions his team pursues can’t influence Comcast’s broader product innovations. "I love it when people in the mainstream see an accessibility feature and ask for it as well," says Tom. "It’s not just a great accessibility feature. It’s a great feature, period."
Space to create
Innovation needs room to breathe. That's the theory behind the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, a $1.2 billion, 59-story, state-of-the art tower scheduled for completion in 2018 in downtown Philadelphia, next to our Comcast Center headquarters. Designed as an incubator for creativity and great ideas, the center will give our growing workforce of technologists, engineers, and software architects a space to think, brainstorm, and conjure up new ideas. In the process, it will advance Philadelphia’s efforts to become the Silicon Valley of the East.
The largest private development project in the history of Pennsylvania, the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center will include highly flexible loft-like spaces and studios that encourage a dynamic way of working. The spaces are based on three unique work styles: tinkerers, who work best individually; teamers, who split their time between team and individual work; and think-tankers, who work in teams and tend to meet in enclosed and formal spaces. Together, the spaces encourage employees to push the boundaries of innovation in an energetic, inspiring work environment.
In addition to housing Comcast innovators, the building will offer space to local technology start-ups looking for a progressive workspace in the city. The tower will also house NBC10 and Telemundo62 — creating a media center in the heart of the city — and a five-star Four Seasons hotel and restaurant with more than 200 rooms. Employees will have direct access to the SEPTA rail line, helping increase the tower’s appeal to millennials and technology workers who want to live, work, and play in a vibrant urban environment.
The economic impact of the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center will be significant. The tower will generate $2.75 billion in economic activity and 20,000 temporary jobs in the region during the construction phase alone. Upon completion, the center will create almost 4,000 new permanent jobs in Pennsylvania and 2,800 new permanent jobs within Philadelphia itself, in addition to $30 million in annual tax revenues for the state.
The innovation doesn’t stop there, as we’re also working with the U.S. Green Building Council to attain LEED Platinum® certification for the tower. Following completion, the tower and the neighboring Comcast Center will be two of the tallest LEED-certified buildings in the United States.
Alan Greenberger, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for economic development, said the tower is putting innovation front and center for everyone involved. "The start-up scene in this city is buzzing," he says. "High-growth technology companies are raising serious money and rapidly expanding their workforce, and major players like Comcast are reinvesting in Philadelphia and creating new opportunities. The Comcast Innovation and Technology Center really cements Philadelphia’s place as one of America’s leading tech hubs."
Slimming the power needs of cable TV boxes
Set-top cable boxes and DVRs act as complete entertainment hubs for many homes. But having more features has traditionally meant higher energy use for consumers. So when Michael Cook decided to learn everything there is to know about the power draw of Comcast cable equipment, he started at — where else? — his house.
"I built a home energy monitoring system a few years back, which tells me exactly how much energy my home is pulling at any given point in time," says Michael, Vice President of Comcast’s Technology and Product Group. "I've connected all my home set-top boxes to the system. It helps me understand the true energy impact of our technologies."
Reducing the power consumption of our set-top boxes and DVRs is a top priority for Comcast, and Michael leads the team that makes it happen. And under his leadership, it's been happening a lot more in recent years. Cumulatively, our ENERGY STAR®-certified set-top boxes saved more than 515 billion watt-hours in 2014 when measured against comparable boxes in 2009 — the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing more than 86,000 cars from the road for one year. And that's just the start. Some of our most substantial energy innovations are only now reaching the market.
So what does Michael believe is the most promising way to slash the power use of the average cable box? Look to the cloud, he advises.
"The cloud is definitely our biggest innovation for energy savings," he says. "Cloud servers can handle many customers at once, which means individual boxes and DVRs don't have to carry as heavy a power load when recording programs or displaying channel guides." We’ve been migrating many of our set-top box capabilities to the cloud for that reason.
Another innovation is the team's "deep sleep" work. One of the main reasons set-top boxes use a lot of energy is that they're almost always on given customers’ recording desires. So we are working to create boxes that power down instantaneously into a deep sleep when not in use, and that power back up nearly as fast before a program is set to record. The key, again, is simplicity.
"Some are satellite boxes for secondary rooms," Michael explains. "They have no DVR at all, but connect to your main box via the cloud. So you don't need to start a lot of things back up after sleep mode."
Another key to reducing energy consumption for set-top boxes is making standards consistent across the industry. To that end, Comcast is a primary supporter of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's (NCTA) voluntary energy-efficiency standards. Announced in 2014, the NCTA agreement sets ongoing energy targets for cable and satellite equipment. Although we have reduced the power requirements of our set-top boxes in each of the past five years, Michael believes the NCTA agreement is an important next step in defining and measuring success industrywide.
"It's difficult to tell the story of the industry's progress without a well-understood definition for each type of set-top box, which you need to set baselines for improvement," he says. "That hadn't been done before the NCTA agreement. This is an important evolution."
Michael knows that most of our energy innovations will fly under the radar of customers, who tend to focus on features and convenience rather than power usage. But that doesn't make his team’s work any less important. "We have an obligation to do the right thing," Michael says, "even when the customer isn’t aware of the benefits."