Here we are fast approaching the end of 2018 and anticipating what next year will hold for us all. For this writer specifically, it means predicting whether or not 2019 will finally be the year when 4K, and most importantly 4K HDR (high dynamic range), will start to break through to cable line-ups and be available to U.S. subscribers — without having to add OTT services that offer 4K, or to rely on DVDs that are released in 4K HDR by the big Hollywood studios.
Before formulating any plans, though, a view of the last 12 months might be a good place to start — as it has been said, looking to the future requires an understanding of the past. Well, 2018 certainly saw changes in the 4K business around the world with more 24/7 linear networks being launched and more sporting events gracing the big screen on 4K TVs.
It does seem that once sports, especially live sports, start to embrace and deliver new 4K HDR technology, regular TV always follows. Going back a couple of years, there were only one or two major sporting events offered by a satellite company to its viewers. But 2018 saw multiple events across multiple sports and multiple platforms start to be delivered, all in a minimum of 4K, but many in 4K HDR.
So, if we look at the year we are still in as an indicator, then the answer is yes, that 4K and HDR are starting to make major breakthroughs. But not everything can be judged by sporting events, so a deeper analysis must take place. The cable industry has continued to see some subscribers disappear — and if the analysts are to be believed, they are likely gone forever. Not everyone agrees, but that is an entirely different subject for an entirely different time.
Early this year, U.S.-based Vivicast Media predicted that we would see 4K channels start to evolve into cable and that these 4K networks could save MSOs from the high churn rate they were experiencing. Although there are many companies now delivering VoD to their 4K-audiences, there are MSOs that are carrying 24/7 4K and 24/7 HDR networks — and are getting some interesting results.
Execs from one cable company that took some time to speak to Vivicast Media reps said that using 4K as a marketing tool had done very well for them. In fact, companies that had deployed 4K channels were very upbeat, noting that it was helping with subs retention as well as getting them geared up for the future.
It can also be said that the inquiries regarding 4K networks by cable companies in North America and LATAM were up significantly, and all but a handful of companies are now starting to believe that 4K HDR is soon going to be a big part of their offerings. Indeed, quite a few have decided that VoD is their most likely toe-in-the-water start.
Why is VoD is the obvious starting point instead of live TV? At one industry event, the panelists, who consisted of 4K industry experts, lauded the fact that “TV was dead and that VoD was the only way to go moving forward in our industry.” Another point made was “there was no content or very limited content available in 4K. So if you as a cable company wanted to make 4K and HDR available to your audience you could only do it via VoD.”
Next year, it might be nice if some of the panelists opt to do a bit of research into what is actually happening in 4K content and how much is available before they speak.
The upcoming year will be the “4K is for real year” and a lot of positives will take place for everyone involved in 4K and HDR. Consumers are becoming more educated, and while there is still a way to go, the trend seems to be pointing towards some of the bigger U.S. cable companies deploying full-time 24/7 4K networks, along with their 4K VoD and 4K special event services.
In 2019, some of the biggest TV networks will realize that 4K and HDR is a good way to keep audiences, rather than building more direct-to-consumer platforms to take the consumer away from cable.
HDR is poised to be the next big thing. Already, some of the small independent 4K networks are launching 4K HDR channels, and more will follow in 2019. Once the picture quality of 4K HDR starts to be seen more widely, the corner will be turned. At that time, we will see the gas pedal hit hard and 4K and HDR will be as ubiquitous as HD is today.
(By Stuart Smitherman, President of Vivicast Media)