A P R I L 3 0 - M A Y 7 , 2 0 1 8, M U LT I C H A N N E L N E W S
Embracing 4K technology is big key to continued relevance
IF YOU WERE TO make an attempt to peer ahead at what’s in store over the next decade for the cable industry, what would you see? How much does Hollywood — the majors, the production community, the consumers — care about its survival? If cable is to be more successful than ever, what elements would be responsible for its success? Conversely, what elements would be responsible for its decline?
Looking at the overall landscape, one can’t help but consider how the very networks that have greatly benefited from cable exposure over the past decades are engaged in a full-court press to cut them out of the supply chain — while also going after their customers.
But change often brings a silver lining if operators are prepared to think a little outside the box (literally and figuratively). It is time for cable executives to become the leaders they once were, rather than followers. Estimates are that 25% of U.S. households now have some form of 4K TV and the numbers are growing at about five times the speed as the adoption from SD to HD. The cable industry is positioned to remain the first choice of viewing, and not just become a fat pipe.
Over the last 12 months, I’ve been discussing the merits of 4K with cable companies, and the positive impact it could have. Several operators have shared that they may opt to discontinue any and all video programming altogether in favor of only providing broadband services. Programming is simply not generating profits due to the per-subscriber fees charged by networks. That leads to an obvious follow-up question: Why can’t operators pass on this cost to their customers? As you might have guessed, there is not an easy answer, as consumers often think that the cable industry is increasing costs for their video offering to simply increase profits. If the true costs of carriage is unknown to the customer then they will continue to seek a more cost-effective viewing experience, and the major networks will become the beneficiaries with their direct-to-consumer apps.
How 4K Comes Into Play
As the average 4K channel streams at between 15 Megabits per second and 25 Mbps it would take some serious changes and upgrades to the current codecs to deliver 4K over a CDN network. I would suggest that it would be incredibly difficult to keep the true integrity of the picture quality to mass consumers today in order to deliver 4K OTT. As a reference point, there were some serious
issues reported with OTT platforms performance when trying to deliver an HD version of the Super Bowl to their customers. If it was 4K and HDR, the issues would have been even more severe.
For an OTT provider that has tens of thousands of subscribers, it is not such an issue, but to the OTT providers that have hundreds of thousands and potentially millions of direct customers, it is a headache that will not be cured overnight.
Companies such as Netflix rely heavily on cable company infrastructure and some clever routing to get 4K directly to the consumer, and even that 4K picture quality is not always as sharp as it should be. If the OTT providers and network-owned apps can’t deliver 4K effectively, then that leaves the cable company as the best solution. An apparent solution is to give customers the 4K and HDR experience they are increasingly demanding. Cable companies are more optimally positioned to provide true 4K and HDR, unlike OTT and apps. However, cable operators are telling me they are waiting for the big networks to deliver 4K channels and then they will deliver to their cable customers. This seems like an astonishing position given that the networks are going directly after the cable subscribers.
Why would a group that is trying to attract your customer offer cable a 4K channel that they would then be reliant on to deliver the product? We are very well aware in the 4K world that most content that is now shown on many major networks is originally shot in 4K and downconverted to HD and as the networks move forward this trend will continue. But if the cable companies don’t have 4K clients then the networks don’t need to deliver 4K, and so the way is clear for the status quo to continue. Ultimately, it would appear that the winner will be the network, not the cable company.
Slow Rollout Breeds Opportunity
There are a handful of 4K channels available today, mainly independent companies that have gotten in front of the curve to deliver 4K programming. As it remains unlikely that the big networks
are going to launch 24/7 4K channels very soon this could present the industry with an opportunity.
Customers want 4K and HDR based on their breakneck speed purchasing of 4K compatible TVs. It is safe to assume that the networks won’t be launching 4K channels because they can’t deliver directly to the consumer. That gives cable operators a window to act. Under this scenario, networks
would have to rely on cable for delivery — and operators would gain back some negotiating power
as they have, at the moment, the infrastructure that can meet the 4K viewers’ expectation.
Cable companies have “the fat pipe” that could very well prepare them not only to meet the rising 4K and HDR demands, but also the further pressure that will eventually be forthcoming from the emergence of 5G. As that technology becomes heavily deployed, will a company that has dropped video and other sticky products even remain relevant?
Stuart Smitherman is president of Vivicast Media.
He can be reached at Stuart@vivicast.com.
Ultra-HD is making significant progress around the world (channel count up 27 per cent) in particular over the past 6 months, according to data from Eutelsat presented at last week’s MIPTV programming market in Cannes.
Claudia Vaccarone (Eutelsat’s Director of Global Market Research) told delegates that Eutelsat was carrying about 33 per cent of the UHD channels on air, and that the global count was some 125 channels. “Here come the channels,” she said, and Eutelsat used the occasion to announce that it was now carrying an all-UHD factual channel from NASA.
The global count (at the end of March 2018) was:
– Satellite/DTH individual channel 52 channels
– Sat/DTH physical feeds – 81 channels
– Cable/IPTV – 71 channels
– DTT – 2 channels
Vaccarone reminded delegates that the progress towards HDTV transmission was also slow, and despite HDTV now being the accepted transmission standard, the fact is that the current global channel count is about 11,700 HD channels, and that this number represents just 27 per cent of the channels on air. In other words, in the 12 years or so that digital HD has been available there are still tens of thousands of channels still transmitting in Standard Definition.
She welcomed the MIPTV event and its focus on UHD programming, but echoed Stuart Smitherman (Vivicast Media’s president) and his comments that the US was about two years behind the rest of the world, and in particular Europe, because of a shortage of suitable set-top box receivers for UHD technology especially in the cable and satellite sector.
Christopher Baugh, president of Northern Sky Research, speaking in a blog last week from the giant NAB show in Las Vegas, said much the same: “UHD uptake for satellite companies lagging with the big barrier being UGD set-top deployment. 1 – 2 years behind schedule.”
Set against this picture is the growth in suitable UHD displays, complete with their integrated ‘smart TV’ and 4K-capabilities (and usually with High Dynamic Range and even Hybrid Log Gamma functionality), which allows viewers to watch any amount of output from Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Vivicast Media has finalized a deal for distribution rights across OTT and alternative platforms for the MAVTV motorsports network in the U.S. and Caribbean markets.
The multiyear agreement provides Vivicast Media with OTT and alternative-technologies distribution rights for the U.S. and Caribbean markets on behalf of the motorsports network.
Anna White, VP of programming for Vivicast Media, said: “MAVTV is perfect for the large number of motorsports enthusiasts who will want access to the network wherever they are. We are excited to represent OTT and alternative platforms as a significant content opportunity to our programming partners in the U.S. and Caribbean.”
Ed Niemi, senior VP of MAVTV, added: “Vivicast Media is the ranking distribution leader in the area of OTT and emerging alternative technologies, and we are extremely pleased to place distribution of MAVTV in these important and emerging platforms.”
Vivicast Media is gearing up for MIPTV, where it will present a slate of new 4K and UHD series, as well as a lineup of next-generation 4K networks.
Among the highlights is the hour-long documentary Journey to Herculaneum, which takes viewers to an ancient city where a metropolis arose in the Middle Ages despite it having been buried in volcanic ash. There is also the 4×1-hour Journey to the Kung Fu World, which is billed as part travelogue and part spiritual journey. “The series takes viewers to incredible Chinese locales and features interviews with famed kung fu icons,” says Stuart Smitherman, the president of Vivicast Media.
Meanwhile, the arts and travel doc Water Puppet—Behind the Curtain presents “an extraordinary look at a Vietnamese tradition dating back to the 11th century from the farmers of northern Vietnam to the artists of the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre,” Smitherman says.
Further highlights include the travel and adventure series Road Less Traveled, Landscape Hunter, Maximum Foodie, and Sex, Power and the Divine.
According to Smitherman, “Each of these programs tells fascinating stories of people, places and cultures that transcend all borders.”
Vivicast will also showcase content for co-production opportunities, including Ball Trip, a documentary series that brings a new perspective to the world of football from the eyes of a fanatic.
In addition, Vivicast Media represents a host of award-winning linear channels that deliver full-time schedules via 4K and HD technology. These include #C4K360, 4K Universe Travelxp 4K and NatureVision TV 4K.
Reflecting the continuing expansion of 4K television in the US, global 4K distribution specialist Vivicast Media has licensed its high-profile 4K and HDR networks to four cable operators, including KPU TV Cable in Ketchikan, Alaska, Margaretville Telephone Company (MTC), New York State, Jackson Energy Authority, Tennessee and newly-launched digital subscription platform Wherever TV.
Leading the Vivicast Media 4K HDR channel line-up is Travelxp 4K HDR, the network that serves as the world’s first and only travel programming destination broadcasting in 4K high dynamic range (HDR).
Joining Travelxp 4k HDR for the four systems are Vivicast-distributed 4K networks:
To 8k, or Not to 8k, That Is the Question!By Stuart Smitherman, President, Vivicast Media / February 13, 2018
The only thing I am 100% sure about in our industry is that things will change. 2017 was certainly a year of change from a content distributor’s perspective — we started the year being asked by our clients who license programming from us for HD, which then changed to all 4K, and then 4K with HDR. Licensors of content like Vivicast have had to be nimble to try and convince our producers to make the same changes. So, I was rather hoping that 2018 would give me and the rest of the industry a bit of a rest and maybe stabilize for a month or three. Alas, that is not the case.
Since I wrote my last piece “Attn Indie Producers,” where I focused on 4K HDR production and why I think that made sense for producers, one major TV manufacturer announced before CES that they were jumping behind an 8K TV. The Olympics this year are going to be shot in 8K and so the questions have started pouring in about 8K and whether producers should be shooting in that rather than 4K HDR. It is a great question, but I am not sure I could advise US producers to jump to 8K when there are far more questions regarding how the content gets distributed via broadcast and cable than there are answers.
I have read over the last several months that many cable companies are not yet fully capable of delivering true 4K over their aging infrastructure, which, aligned with limited 4K set-top boxes in the market, tells me we are probably many years away from 8K being widely available to end user subscribers. Then of course the consumer will need an 8K TV, and at the moment the high price point does not make this type of television something that everyone will have any time soon. Add in the the sheer bandwidth requirements for delivery of content in 8K and it is likely that only satellite (DTH) companies could deliver 8K right now and that is a limited number of companies to sell your hard work to!
In full disclosure, we have represented 8K content here in the U.S. and had some takers, but that content was downgraded to 4K and not delivered in its original format. A couple of TV manufacturers have also asked us for 8K content for them to display, but the catalog for 8K is very thin. Last October at MIPCOM I did hear an executive of a large European DTH company say that they were “all-in on 8K”, but I am not sure as an industry we have all come to grips with 4K yet. 4K HDR is certainly worth the effort as I have said before. HDR takes the 4K picture quality to a whole different level and as a consumer myself, I can honestly say that the difference in picture quality is outstanding and worth the view and you really can tell the difference between 1080 HDR and 4K HDR. Post-production costs for 4K HDR have also come down significantly over the past 6 months, in some cases up to 50% lower, so do take another look if you are still on the fence regarding shooting in 4K HDR due to post costs. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Follow Studio Daily's Broadcasting ChannelWhen people talk to me about 16K (and, yes, that is a thing) even my own eyes glaze over. I think we should start to walk before we run. But who knows, as things are changing so fast you might see an article from me in the next edition talking about the emergence of 32K.
Stuart Smitherman serves as President of Vivicast Media, a pioneer in the worldwide distribution of high quality 4K programming and full-time television networks broadcasting 4K entertainment.
Vivicast: “Prepare for 4K/HDR”By Chris Forrester
January 11, 2018
While CES very much focuses on the hardware needed to best display 4K (and perhaps even 8K) content, the production end of the value chain is also looking to boost availability of 4K programming.
Stuart Smitherman, president of Vivicast Media, says that a year or so ago Ultra HD was very much about scenic landscapes and wildlife. That is now changing for the better, he says. He adds that while Live Sports will continue to lead the way, he told Studio Daily that the majority of Vivicast’s production partners are not shooting live sports and instead are creating works of art, and programming that needs to remain timeless or at least relevant for years to come.
The difference, says Smitherman, is the addition of High Dynamic Range to the portfolio of benefits that 4K allows. He told delegates at MIPtv in April almost 2 years ago that content, however beautifully [shot], must have a story or narrative that is capable of holding a viewer’s attention but still showcases Ultra HD.
Vivicast Media has for some time been supplying 4K content into DirecTV for their UHD output. But he tells producers that even if their clients are today only requesting 1080 HDTV then it is time to improve their image capture to 4K/UHD. “You can always downgrade to HD but if you have the source material in the highest quality resolution you are more likely to be able to sell that content in the future.”
Attn Indie Producers: Time to Get Ready for 4K HDR. By Stuart Smitherman, President, Vivicast Media / January 5, 2018
Over the past several years Vivicast Media has worked to expand its 4K/UHD and HDR activities and, as a result of our pioneering efforts in next generation formats, we are positioned in an unusual and unique position within the television industry. We not only license 4K and HDR content to operators all over the world, but we are also responsible for acquiring content and scheduling a 4K channel in the U.S.A.
It is interesting to note that while that seems quite a comfortable position to be in as we are a buyer and a licensor, this is not entirely as easy as it looks. Over the past three years we have seen some major changes in the 4K content that is available as well as the 4K requirements of operators. I have been asked many times by producers what type of content is selling in today’s market and how much it is worth – logical questions to ask someone that licenses content but they are difficult to answer.
It would appear there is a well-trodden path that the 4K and HDR formats are treading as was demonstrated in the early days of HD content. Live Sports has, and probably will, always lead the way. However the majority of our producer partners are not shooting live sports and instead are creating works of art – programming that needs to remain timeless or at least relevant for years to come.
While speaking to an audience at MIP TV in 2016 where the majority of 4K content was either scenic landscapes or wildlife I said the following, “One of the key areas that we and our broadcast partners have specifically set out to achieve is that content however beautifully must have a story or narrative that is capable of holding our viewer’s attention but still show cases Ultra High definition”. These words are as true today as they were back in April 2016.
Since then, there has been an emergence of HDR (High Dynamic Range) content, accompanied by an increasing appetite for 4K HDR content from broadcasters and operators. The early 4K HDR content concentrated heavily on landscapes and wildlife as these categories obviously showcase the immersive picture quality of 4K HDR. Moving forward, compelling imagery needs to be married to equally dramatic storylines. A perfect example of this trend the recent work by filmmaker Thierry Donard, a prominent figure in Extreme Sports. There is a growing abundance of 4K Extreme Sports content – with much of the programming relying on the speed of the sport and corresponding vivid pictures. Thierry takes it to the next level by getting all of this into his work but also telling memorable stories about the athletes that adds structure and depth to his work. If you get the opportunity to view his work it is worth the time.
My advice to my producer friends and colleagues is that even if they are selling mainly 1080 HD content they should start to shoot everything in 4K HDR, you can always downgrade to HD but if you have the source material in the highest quality resolution you are more likely to be able to sell that content in the future. As a licensor and buyer we are well aware that the post production costs of HDR can be seen as expensive, this will change and the post costs will surely come down in price.
One producer said to me that they believe that 1080 HDR is probably more acceptable to broadcasters than 4K HDR because the bandwidth to deliver 1080 is so much less. They are not entirely incorrect in their statement about bandwidth but, as consumers start to demand 4K and 4K HDR from their broadcaster/Cable Company (see the latest estimates of households with 4K TVs) and the technology starts to work towards codecs that reduce the bandwidth requirements, it would be my advice that the content is shot in 4K HDR.
Stuart Smitherman serves as President of Vivicast Media, a pioneer in the worldwide distribution of high quality 4K programming and full-time television networks broadcasting 4K entertainment.
There is a wealth of 4K and HDR content in the Vivicast Media catalog being presented in Cannes.
“We have so many more productions that we could have chosen, but we are proud to highlight this year Cuba, Big Engineering and Bring Your Own Board (BYOB),” says Stuart Smitherman, the company’s president. “Each of these productions, although very different, reflects common themes of our interconnected world.” Cuba, done in 4K and HDR, looks at an unvisited portion of the country and its ecological treasures. Big Engineering, in 4K HDR, spotlights marvels of the manmade world. BYOB, also in 4K, looks at a passion for sport and the sacrifice and joy entailed. “Each of these titles…tells a story that anyone, wherever they are from, can identify with,” says Smitherman.
Smitherman adds: “Vivicast represents some of the very best producers and productions in 4K and HDR across all genres from all over the world.”
By Angela Yang @AngelaESPNPR
Posted on September 12, 2017
Vivicast to Add In-Season Video-On-Demand Content, Start Over and Look Back Functionality
MEMPHIS, TN and BRISTOL, CT –– SEPTEMBER 12, 2017 –– Vivicast Media, a leading licensor of branded cable networks to affiliates throughout the United States, and The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) today announced a comprehensive multi-year distribution agreement to deliver Disney’s robust lineup of top quality sports, news and entertainment content to Vivicast’s roster of video operators that deliver content to TVs, computers, smartphones, tablets, and streaming devices nationwide.
“We are excited to announce our new multi-year licensing agreement with the Disney and ESPN Media Networks for our video affiliates and continue our successful and longstanding association with The Walt Disney Company. The agreement reflects the commitment of Disney and Vivicast to effectively address the core operational, technical and marketing objectives of video operators across the country,” said Anna White, Vice President Programming for Vivicast Media.
Added Sean Breen, Senior Vice President, Affiliate Sales and Marketing, Disney & ESPN Media Networks: “Our company has had a fantastic relationship with Vivicast for nearly a decade. This new agreement will allow members’ subscribers to continue to watch their favorite programs and must-see live sporting events however and whenever they choose to watch, in addition to introducing new services to enhance their viewing experience.”
Under the new agreement, Vivicast subscribers will continue to have access to Disney and ESPN Media Networks, including Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, ESPN Classic, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3, SEC Network, Longhorn Network, ESPN Goal Line, and ESPN Bases Loaded, in addition to authenticated live and on-demand content through TV Everywhere products.
New offerings available to Vivicast subscribers will include in-season video-on-demand content and start over and look back functionality.
About Vivicast Media, LLC
Vivicast Media is a leader in the distribution of quality television entertainment to all platforms worldwide. In the US, the company maintains fixed alliances with video operators, major branded cable networks and OTT suppliers for the purpose of executing licensing agreements. Globally, Vivicast Media is recognized as a pioneering force in delivering next-generation video technology to entertainment providers worldwide. The company is helping pave the way for 4k Ultra High Definition and HDR through its acquisition and distribution of high quality 4k/UHD and HDR programming across the US and throughout the world.
About The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company, together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a leading diversified international entertainment and media enterprise with four business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, and consumer products and interactive media. Disney is a Dow 30 company and had annual revenues of $55.6 billion in its Fiscal Year 2016.