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.
Author: Stuart Smitherman, Vivicast Media
The curtain is finally raising in the U.S. for 4K/High Dynamic Range (HDR). While Hollywood has been mastering an increasing amount of programming in HDR, and Amazon, Netflix and DirecTV have been successfully delivering UHD content, we are now starting to see cable operators taking the plunge.
We knew this day would arrive. Vivicast Media launched into licensing 4K/HDR content more than four years ago, just as the dramatic 4K and 8K picture quality started to capture the industry’s attention. Key technology challenges have now been or are on the way to being successfully addressed — including the ability to compress adequate bandwidth required to deliver the signal into the home — just as HDR/UHD-ready TV sets and HDR/UHD content and delivery are finally catching up with one another.
Once 4K set-tops are more readily available, the landscape looks (literally) picture perfect.
At the same time, recent months have seen an encouraging evolution in 4K/HDR thinking by cable and IPTV operators who are beginning to trial and test 4K channels, responding to the increasingly vocal demands of subscribers.
Two forward-thinking cable systems — Marquette-Adams of Oxford, Wis., and Highlands Cable Group of Highlands, N.C. — are giving the industry a glimpse into the future of 4K/UHD. While these systems may be small in scope, they loom large for pioneering UHD and HDR into the home. As a result of their historic “proof of performance,” we are seeing an acceleration of UHD delivery to homes nationwide.
The set-top box still continues to be the largest barrier to entry for cable operators of all sizes. Although set-top manufacturers have begun in earnest to integrate the 4K chipset, we are unlikely to see these readily available in the market until later this year. Still, several of the large tier-2 operators have decided not to wait any longer and are actively pursuing either alternative STBs or have designed their own 4K compatible set-tops to meet rising subscriber demand.
Factors contributing to the inevitability of UHD in the US include:
• The sheer number of UHD TVs currently sold in the U.S. is rising. The sales rate of UHD TVs is about five times faster than the move from SD to HD, and the new technology is encouraging consumers to seek out UHD content.
• There are more dedicated 4K and HDR channels and content. Cable and IPTV operators interested in 4K channels want more than just one or two — and they are getting their wish. Vivicast media alone represents seven of the full-time 4K/UHD channels, targeting the full cross-section of core demographics.
• Viewer awareness is growing. HDR is fast transforming among consumers from a fascination to demand. Subscribers are letting operators know they want this image quality every day of the week across all of their channels. And, yes, they are willing to pay more.
• Obstacles are disappearing and the competition is increasing. Several of the larger cable companies in the U.S. are demonstrating a desire to offer 4K channels, not only because of anticipating the inevitable competition from major networks but also due to the erosion of their subscriber base from both satellite-TV and over-the-top providers such as Amazon and Netflix who have been actively offering 4K for more than a year.
The pieces of the puzzle are fitting together as television sets, delivery technology and content are converging to ready 4K/HDR for the mass market.
Stuart Smitheman is president of Vivicast Media, a Memphis-Tenn.-based content licensor to MPVDs worldwide.
Vivicast: Confident of further US UHD deployment
By Chris Forrester
June 21, 2017.
Amy Shapiro, Vivicast Media’s VP/Acquisitions, Broadcast & Syndication, speaking at the SES Ultra HD Conference in London, forecast a buoyant future for the fast-growing technology.
She told delegates that April 2016 saw DirecTV’s initial deployment of 4K/UHD channels, and Memphis-based Vivicast has since licensed a large number of titles to the pay-TV operator. “Only last week we finalised an agreement for a brand-new extreme sport series from a well-known documentary filmmaker that is specifically designed for DirecTV,” she revealed.Shapiro explained that DirecTV’s current portfolio of UHD channels comprises one movie channel, a sport channel and the ‘general entertainment’ channel which Vivicast is helping to fill.
However, at the end of 2016, Vivicast started talking to US cable and IPTV operators to target UHD programming for them, and currently have signed up more than 25 companies to a series of trials, or pulling down signals carried by SES and these equate to over 25 million potential subscribers and in discussions with operators which cover 90 per cent of all the paid households in the US.
“4K compatible set-top boxes are finally being made available in the US, and to date this has been a major hold up. From all of our discussions, I can see the potential for multiple cable and telco operators deploying 4K channels this year and I see more following suit in 2018. We at Vivicast are currently supplying seven UHD channels. I expect a major cable network to enter the market soon,” she concluded.
The business case for creating and delivering UHD and HDR contentBy Chris Forrester20 June 2017
Production companies and distributors are tapping into “considerable” demand for UHD and HDR content.
Tracking down the target interviews for this feature wasn’t easy.
Indeed, Bertrand Loyer, the Managing Director at Marseille-based Saint Thomas Productions was especially difficult to pin down for this interview, apologising profusely for “being in the Canary Islands running after whales for a shoot”.
Of course, being at the back end of a camera rig while bobbing about on a boat in the Canary Islands sunshine might not be everyone’s idea of total hardship, but as Loyer reminds us, the object of the exercise is Ultra High Definition (UHD) and that creates its own set of challenges.
”High-quality formats give us the opportunity to sell and show our programmes in territories where access has proven to be difficult” - Bertrand Loyer
Loyer’s Saint Thomas Productions is well-known to some of the most prestigious natural history and factual broadcasters on the planet, including National Geographic and the BBC.
Saint Thomas worked with the BBC’s Natural History Unit production team on key footage for Planet Earth II, including the spectacular – and headline-making - scenes where bird-hunting Wels catfish come out of the water to grab pigeons in the river at Albi, in South-west France.
The BBC’s Planet Earth II - acclaimed footage of pigeon eating fish
Loyer says that UHD, High Dynamic Range and even 8K shooting is key.
“These high-quality formats give us the opportunity to stay at the upper range of the factual offering in a very competitive international market.
”It gives us the opportunity to sell and show our programmes in territories where access has proven to be difficult in the ‘ordinary’ HDTV era.
”The VOD and OTT revolution will inevitably be the favourite media to make our shows available worldwide, so we have to stay at the cutting edge of the broadcast quality format.”
Saint Thomas Productions has a multi-discipline approach to earning revenue from its footage.Loyer says UHD has opened up new possibilities.
“We are discovering new clients (from VOD to IPTV platforms, for instance), as well as establishing new partnership with BBC Planet Earth II’s team as well as selling stock footage for feature films, reinforcing some bonds with long-term clients such as National Geographic.
“Overall, it is a question of image: our company name is a brand of quality, we could not miss the UHD revolution.”
Loyer says they produce everything in 4K/UHD RAW for television, and S3D RAW in 4K or 8K for IMAX and large-screen applications.
He said that he believes that – as the world is seeing – mainstream pay-TV broadcasters would be early adopters of UHD, and then VOD/OTT operators.
“Linear TV is under considerable pressure and clearly some broadcasters will shift high-quality programming to dedicated 4K channels. However, in my view digital terrestrial TV will, within 10 years, be supplying 4K broadcasts.”
“UHD, and in particular UHD HDR, will inevitably become the new standard, gradually replacing HD. It has a potential to accompany the demand of larger-sized screens in households, and create immersive experiences which can be shared.
”Whether you are a soccer fan or a nature lover, you want to see your favourite programme in detail which are as accurate as possible; the colour range and contrast should also match (and even surpass) the capacity of our human vision.”
Killer seals and feathered dinosaurs
Currently Saint Thomas has number of projects underway, not least focusing on so-called ‘killer’ seals, and another on deep-diving marine mammals.
But it is also heavily involved on giant screen feature films including one on snow and another, using CGI, on the recently-discovered giant feathered dinosaurs.
Loyer is not alone in predicting considerable success for the UHD sector.
Vivicast Media, a Memphis-based licensor and channel distributor, is currently supplying nine all-UHD channels to some cable and IPTV operators in the US.
President Stuart Smitherman says that the demand for UHD content – from consumers – is considerable.
“First and foremost is the sheer number of TV’s currently sold in the US that are UHD. The sales rate of UHD TV’s is about five times faster than the move from SD to HD – and the new technology is encouraging consumers to seek out UHD content.
”Although there may be some consumer confusion surrounding the difference between UHD and 4K, as the educational process rapidly unfold, consumers will demand content that shows off the new format – and their desire will no longer be limited to watching a Blu-ray disc in 4K.”
Vivicast is tapping into that demand.
“We license our channels on an individual basis rather than bundling them, reflecting the objective of cable and IPTV operators who prefer flexibility when launching 4K channels.
”At the same time, cable and IPTV operators interested in 4K channels usually want more than just one. As a result, the recent months has seen an encouraging evolution in 4K thinking by cable and IPTV operators.
”Throughout 2016, the operator consensus seemed to be: ‘there is no content,’ ‘we are not sure that 4K is going to take off,’ ‘the bandwidth is too high’ and ‘we do not have the set top box capabilities to deliver 4K.’
”In contrast, 2017 has seen the largest DTH operator in the US continuing to invest and deliver 4K content, while early adopters are commercially launching 4K channels to their customers. These developments have signalled a big shift in our discussions and questions have become far more focused on what type of content are in the channels that are offered by Vivicast.
”There is a lot more quality 4K content now available and with the current 4K channels currently being delivered in HEVC via SES satellites at 18 mb/s or less the bandwidth question is no longer such a huge deal. The STB industry has now also started to address 4K capability and these 4K STBs are starting to be offered.”
Smitherman says that UHD adoption is more a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’’.
“The advent of HDR – which provides picture quality that makes 4K even more spectacular – will likely follow a path similar to that of SD to HD conversion.
”As viewers become increasingly aware of 4K and HDR, they will want this image quality every day of the week across all of their channels. From my conversations with major broadcasters, there does appear to be a slight change in strategy and I think that late 2017 and into 2018 we will see a major network launch a fully programmed 4K channel, with the others following close behind.
”It is understandable that major broadcasters have shown reluctance with regard to becoming early adopters of 4K due not only to such technical issues as set top boxes in consumers’ homes but also from their previous experience with 3D a few years back.
”However, 4K does not carry with it the same obstacles as the need for glasses. Importantly, several of the larger cable companies in the US are already demonstrating a desire to offer 4K channels, anticipating the inevitable competition.
Asked whether consumers are prepared to pay extra cash for UHD, Smitherman answers a resounding ‘yes’.
“However, it is too early in the growth cycle to be more precise on what that dollar amount would look like.
”While Netflix customers in the US are already charged a few dollars more each month to view their 4K content, operators can charge an incremental fee for the set top boxes if they so desired, providing a revenue stream to cover the content costs and at the same time cover the costs of upgrading to new 4K compatible boxes.
”My hope is that cable and IPTV operators would ultimately employ a model that can offer 4K at no extra cost simply to deliver the best quality to their customers.”
Smitherman says that in a recent 4K discussion with a large North American operator regarding how they would be packaging their new 4K channels, he was pleased when they responded that they won’t be charging extra, and will make the package available to every subscriber with a 4K TV and upgrades to a 4K set top box.
“We as a cable company know that our highest RPM’s come from the clients that have the financial resources to buy multiple services from us and remain loyal, therefore we want to treat them as valued customers and show our intent to deliver the very best we can – and 4K is one of these events.”
What is perhaps remarkable is that Vivicast Media, as well as Saint Thomas Productions, and also major global players such as NHK of Japan and the BBC are also working on 8K production.
NHK’s efforts are in readiness for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. These 8K developments may not quite be for tomorrow, but ‘never say never’ and savvy broadcasters and production companies are wise to be ready for – perhaps – the next stage.
BBC Worldwide and Vivicast Media Join to Increase CalaClassic Channel’s Line-Up
of BBC’s Most Popular Series
For Immediate Release:
MEMPHIS/MIAMI (May 2, 2017) – Vivicast Media has finalized an agreement with BBC Worldwide expanding the current programming for the LORAC Communications-managed CalaClassics Channel from its current 700 hours to encompass over 1,000 hours of the BBC’s most popular classic comedies, drama series, and factual entertainment series.
New series added to the existing agreement include classic comedy series such as Chef (S1-3), which exposes audiences to the harsh realities of restaurant management; My Hero (S1-4), which depicts the adventures of an alien superhero who falls in love with a nurse from Earth; and Friday Night Dinner (S 1-4), a truly original series about growing up but not growing away. The deal also includes factual series like the wildly popular motor series Top Gear (S2-8), and hit drama Upstairs Downstairs (S 1-2), one of the most beloved of all times, as well as special episodes of the classic BBC series, Doctor Who.
“This new agreement expands considerably the presence of BBC Worldwide’s content throughout the Caribbean and underscores the enormous popularity that British content has in this region of the world,” said Anna Gordon, Executive Vice President and Managing Director, BBC Worldwide Latin America / US Hispanic. “We are confident that this kind of agreement will soon contribute to expand the presence of the BBC brand to all platforms in the Caribbean, including Pay TV, video streaming and open television.”
“Viewer response to our BBC line-up has been outstanding, and we are excited to expand the portfolio of high-profile BBC productions as part of the regular CalaClassics schedule,” said Executive Producer,Tony Marchand.
“We are pleased to finalize an agreement with BBC Worldwide resulting in the expansion of the renowned BBC library to The CalaClassic Channel, which continues to serve as outstanding broadcast home in the Caribbean territories for BBC’s extraordinary library of classic series programming,” said Stuart Smitherman, president of Vivicast Media.
About BBC Worldwide
BBC Worldwide is the main commercial arm and a wholly owned subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Its vision is to build the BBC’s brands, audiences, commercial returns and reputation across the world. This is achieved through investing in, commercializing and showcasing content from the BBC around the world, in a way that is consistent with BBC standards and values. The business also champions British creativity globally.
In 2015/16 BBC Worldwide generated headline profits of £133.8m and headline sales of £1,029.4m and returned £222.2m to the BBC.
For more detailed performance information please see our Annual Review webpage: bbcworldwide.com/annual-review/.
CalaClassics is the most popular classic television service in the Caribbean, managed by Lorac Communications Inc., a fully integrated media company. Lorac is one of the largest independent media companies specializing in ownership, distribution, production and technical services in the Caribbean and Latin America. Through its offering, Lorac’s family of services engages more than 8 million viewers per day.
Lorac has established itself as a leader in the television and media space by experiencing tremendous growth and success through its brands and networks. Lorac’s top networks include the most popular weather channel and entertainment channels in the market.
About Vivicast Media:
Headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, Vivicast Media serves as a recognized leader in the global distribution of the highest quality 4K programming from world-class independent production partners. Vivicast also ranks among the top tier of worldwide distribution companies representing 24/7 linear television networks offering a full schedule line-up of 4K entertainment. As a pioneer in next-generation video technology, Vivicast was among the first to deliver linear content to the OTT market and continues its unparalleled commitment to format innovation through its distribution of 4K/Ultra HD programming to the global marketplace.
LAS VEGAS, 27 April 2017 – #C4K360 the new, immersive millennial Ultra HD channel, SES and VIVICAST Media announced today at NAB Show® two commercial agreements with cable operators in the USA and the launch of the UHD channel #C4K360 on SES-1 making the new channel available to more than 8.5 million subscribers in the 4K Ultra HD (UHD) SES trials partners.
Tailored to young audiences, #C4K360 offers Ultra HD content that features premium and high-end programmes such as Extreme sports, e-Sports, Gaming, Gameplay and Lifestyle magazines together with mega concerts & festivals. The new UHD channel, licensed across North America by VIVICAST Media, fully embraces the second screen concept offering 360° Virtual Reality premium content in addition to ultra high resolution production values, increasingly important to millennial viewers.
“#C4K360 represents an exciting source of relevant and entertaining programming for thriving millennial audiences, who are increasingly demanding Ultra HD content in both the lifestyle, sports, travel, gaming and immersive virtual reality experiences they are craving for.” said Stephane Schweitzer, CEO of #C4K360.
“Media platforms in all categories throughout the US have a huge appetite for channels that will attract the elusive millennial audience. Perfectly tailored to young adult viewers, C4K360 delivers an entertainment menu of lifestyle programming, extreme sports and mega concerts that will act like a young audience magnet -- and the channel does it all in glorious Ultra HD, along with the ability to deliver 360° Virtual Reality premium content that adds to the channel's singular millennial appeal," said Stuart Smitherman, President of Vivicast Media.
"C4K360 is a forward-thinking Ultra HD channel with its finger on the pulse of young, millennial audiences around the world," noted Steve Corda, Vice President of Business Development for SES in North America. "The SES Ultra HD solution is enabling Pay TV providers across North America to accelerate their commercial 4K Ultra HD service launches, in large part thanks to our compelling programming lineup, featuring innovative networks such as C4K360."