Following on the recent announcement by RCN Cable to deliver 4k channels to its subscribers in Boston, New York, eastern Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Vivicast Media has signed an agreement to license three of the distribution company’s global 4k channels to the leading cable provider, it was announced jointly by Stuart Smitherman, President of Vivicast Media and Chris Fenger, COO of RCN.
Beginning this month, RCN customers with 4K-enabled set-top-boxes will have access to Vivicast Media’s premier channels including:
“With the addition of Vivicast Media’s 4K channels, RCN has become the premier destination for 4K channel content. Not only will customers enjoy travel, lifestyle, music, and more, they can utilize this 4K technology on their favorite streaming services via their TiVo set-top boxes – providing a seamless user entertainment experience,” said Chris Fenger, COO of RCN. “RCN continuously offers new and innovative technologies, and with the launch of 4K dedicated channels, we’re adding this advanced viewing experience to our trusted services, including 1 Gigabit internet, whole home WiFi, the new TiVo Experience with voice remote and more.”
Stuart Smitherman, Vivicast’s co-founder and president, talks to TV Real Weekly all about the prospects for 4K and what may spur widespread take-up of the format.
Positioning itself at the intersection of technology and content, Vivicast Media was an early mover in the 4K space. It not only has a growing catalog of high-quality 4K and HDR programming and channels, but 8K is now also in its sights.
TV REAL: How early of a mover was Vivicast in the 4K space, and what initially led you to take up such a dynamic push in this arena?
SMITHERMAN: Vivicast started in 4K seven years ago, and the joke we often used is that we were into 4K before most people could spell it. The strategic reasons for making such a push in the 4K arena was simple. Vivicast has always had an eye to the future of TV viewing and has grown its reputation among our clients and industry peers for being a licensing company that is usually ahead of the curve. We were among the very first to license and represent OTT content for that emerging market, and Vivicast was the first to offer OTT rights for TV channels and offer global OTT rights to U.S. companies and OTT companies outside North America. Although we were one of the companies that licensed 3D early in its life and represented several full networks around the globe, we knew that 3D was not likely to be a long-term strategy for us. But as the buzz was just starting regarding 4K, we wanted to get ahead of the market. We have had success before being ahead of others and believe that this strategy was the correct approach, and we have continued this with HDR and 8K.
TV REAL: Tell us about Vivicast’s bouquet of 4K channels.
SMITHERMAN: The networks that we currently represent are all very different, and we think they bring something new and exciting for the viewers across North America and around the world. While Vivicast Media is presently focusing on the North American market for these channels, they continue to roll out across Europe and Asia, where the take-up of 4K is more prevalent.
With regard to the specific networks, Travelxp in 4K and HDR was the very first travel channel in HDR, and we are proud to represent the network as the programming is genuinely about travel and has no reality TV thrown in that pretends to be travel. Travelxp is shot in a way that gives you the feeling you are not being dictated to as a traveler, but that you are getting the information from an actual tourist who shows and explains the destination in a way that makes you feel as though they understand and care about the viewer. The fact that the channel is in full HLG HDR and is filmed and finished that way makes this channel unique; as there is no content that has been up-scaled from SDR, it truly makes the picture quality pop and the colors look real. The channel is growing all over the world, and in North America is already being offered by TELUS in Canada as well as several U.S. cable companies and is pleased to have just finalized an agreement with one of the United States’ bigger operators, RCN.
C4K360 is a channel that, although designed originally for millennials, has expanded its appeal for all demographics and covers some very fashionable and watchable genres such as gaming, lifestyle, festivals and eSports, to name just a few. The channel also boasts VR, allowing the viewer to scan a QR code from the screen to their portable device and enjoy many of the events in 360 degrees. C4K360 has grown across multiple operators around the world and has several deployments in the U.S. The vast majority of the programming is original and produced by the channel itself. In 2019, the channel will start to offer the HDR experience using HLG HDR.
Nature Relaxation 4K channel does exactly what the name suggests and brings the beauty and pictorial elegance of nature and music that is designed for the viewer to relax and unwind to. The camera work and the way that the channel is scheduled means that it can be on the viewer’s TV for a few minutes or, as is more common, for hours. The intent and execution of the scenes transfer the viewer from inside the home to some of the most spectacular and vivid landscapes from around the world. Owned by Stingray, the channel is also known in other parts of the world as the Ambiance channel. It is likely in 2019 we will see a name change here in the U.S.
4KUniverse is a general entertainment channel that is now available in full 4K HDR and combines everything that viewers expect from a GE channel—movies, series, kids’ [programming] and documentaries, etc. The channel is from the U.S. but contains content in English from producers around the globe. The programming meets family viewing requirements with a worldwide appeal. 4KUniverse has a number of cable companies in the U.S. and Europe currently offering the channel to their subscribers.
TV REAL: Are you able to source a good supply of 4K content from the international market or is there still a need for more 4K production?
SMITHERMAN: As a licensor of 4K content worldwide, Vivicast Media has seen a significant increase in the amount of content that is shot and available in 4K over the last 12 to 24 months. At the same time, I think that although we have seen huge leaps in 4K content availability there is always going to be a need for more 4K productions. We are going to see 4K continue to grow, and 2019 will be a year when more channels enter the market as viewer awareness of 4K and demand for 4K content continues to escalate.
TV REAL: How much 4K content is in the Vivicast catalog for distribution and across which genres?
SMITHERMAN: Vivicast is not really like other licensing companies as we keep very little archive of 4K content, as most of the content we supply we do on a bespoke basis. Simply put, we try to acquire the different genres and types of content that our buyers are looking for as their needs change rather than keep offering the same content to everyone and seeing what works. With 4K specifically, we are dealing with limited buyers and unlike HD—where a catalog is far more important to meet the needs of multiple buyers who are looking for every genre—4K has, to date, been very targeted.
We work with companies from all over the world as a licensor and are pleased to represent a number of producers and production companies that have worked with us for years and entrust us in representing their new and exciting content. As 4K has started to evolve, it’s tough to say that one genre or another has a distinct benefit being in 4K. Seven years ago, when 4K was emerging as a format, it was very similar to the early days of HD, where landscapes and sport were at the top of everyone’s wish list, followed by live sport content. Today, sport and specifically live sports events are the dominant requirements, but series, documentaries, alternative sport and drama are becoming prevalent as the 4K format becomes more mainstream.
TV REAL: Which markets are buying the most 4K programming at present?
SMITHERMAN: Other parts of the world are currently further ahead than the U.S. in 4K broadcasting. Major broadcasters in Europe, Eastern Europe, parts of Asia and Canada are now actively buying 4K and, in some instances, 8K content. DTH companies around the world still seem to be among the major players in the 4K market, likely due to their ability to handle the larger file sizes, and they are not reliant by fixed line and cable capacity issues.
TV REAL: What are the challenges that 4K content (and channels) still face in today’s marketplace?
SMITHERMAN: There are still many challenges when it comes to 4K content and especially when HDR is added—I could probably write a whole book on the subject, but here are a few of the major challenges that remain. Starting with a positive for 4K, TVs that are 4K- and HDR-ready are being sold across North America at breakneck speed. However, it would be entirely fair to say that in the early days there was limited content being produced in this format and the usual suppliers of content to the end user, the cable companies, were not aware of some of the technical difficulties and were behind the eight ball in deploying the required technology. Limited set-top boxes that could play 4K were slow to enter the North American market and, to an extent, that remains a slight challenge today. If the set-top boxes are not deployed, then even if there were millions of hours of 4K content available, the technology did not allow the end users to see it.
Outside of Netflix, who were early adopters of 4K, the traditional MSOs were reluctant to offer 4K as they believed there was very limited content, and these same companies were even more reluctant to deploy set-top boxes as they did not think there was the viewership for the format. Today, there is a huge amount of available 4K content, but not enough people in our industry until recently were aware of this. Now that we know content and channels are available in 4K and that there are the viewers with the TVs that want to see the format, the tide is turning.
One of the other challenges is the format war for HDR; it reminds me of the Betamax versus VHS days. There remains a need to standardize the format and, hopefully this year, we will see further strides being made to achieve this.
Now I think the biggest challenge that has held back the mass take-up of 4K content so far is consumer awareness. TV manufacturers have done a stellar job of selling and marketing the TVs, but when most people buy the TV they are unaware of what they need to do to get 4K content playing on their screens. This is very much a chicken and egg situation; if the content is not easily made available then only a few will have the patience to seek it out, and if only a small percentage of the population is seeking the content then why would an MSO feel they need to deliver it! With more MSOs (like TELUS and RCN) realizing that they need to deliver the 4K experience to their viewers, 2019 should see others following suit and, as if by magic, 4K appears everywhere.
The final challenge in the U.S. to the wide adoption of 4K content really lies at the feet of the major U.S. networks. I have spoken and written in the past about why the majors have not, to date, made their 4K content widely available to the MSOs and how they are more driven to have a direct relationship with the consumer than to give the MSOs something new that keeps them tied to the cable companies—so probably no point in going into a whole lot more detail on that subject again.
For all within the industry that still think there is none or very little 4K content being shot by the big networks, this is seriously not the case. The big networks have been and continue to commission and shoot a lot of their shows in 4K. Indeed, before the publicized exodus by many from Netflix, you were able to watch some of their syndicated shows on that platform in 4K and often 4K HDR. I do not purport to have a crystal ball, but I do think that 2019 will see one of the larger network groups announce and possibly deliver a channel in 4K and HDR. If we are all lucky, it might not be a reality TV channel, as seeing reality in 4K HDR might be a little too lifelike for even the most enthusiastic viewer!
Agreement with TELUS Optik TV Marks First Ever 24/7 4K HDR Linear Network To Be Licensed In Canada
TORONTO/MEMPHIS/MUMBAI (August 1, 2018) – Vivicast Media Canada, the Toronto-based Canadian sales and Canadian sales and distribution arm of global 4K distributor Vivicast Media, has licensed Travelxp 4k (www.travelxp.tv) to TELUS Optik TV, available in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. Representing the first time a 24/7 linear 4K HDR network is available in Canada, Travelxp 4k made its debut on TELUS Optik TV on July 26.
Travelxp is an initiative of Celebrities Management Private Limited, a privately held company headquartered in Mumbai, India, with interests in broadcast, advertising, media consulting and other related services. The company operates seven satellite channels across the globe on behalf of its group companies.
“We are excited to join with TELUS for the Canadian launch of Travelxp 4k, the world’s first 4K travel channel with 100% exclusive programming delivered in stunning 4K HDR. TELUS Optik TV subscribers can view Travelxp 4k’s content in full 4K high dynamic range for a viewing experience that is truly unmatched,” said Stuart Smitherman, President of Vivicast Media.
Prashant Chothani, CEO Travelxp, said: “We are delighted to launch Travelxp 4k as the first 24x7 4K channel in Canada, which takes our global reach to over 92 million TV homes in 26 countries. Canada is a large and important market with a highly evolved audience which is known to be amongst the largest spenders on international travel. We feel privileged to enter so many wonderful TV homes in Canada, thanks to our agreement with TELUS Optik TV. We hope to add to their wanderlust with our unique, exclusive, premium and 100% originally-produced travel content presented in 4K for an unmatched experience.”
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.”