This year’s theme for Content and Communications World (“Discover. Define. Deliver”) turned out to have been more apt than the organizers may have realized.
As with past events, there is always much to “Discover” (imagine being a customer of CPC—closed captioning software provider—and finding out at the trade exhibition that it’s corporate identity is now Telestream by searching in vain for the former’s booth only to stumble upon the latter’s—what else haven’t the clients been told?).
As was heard at session after session, a universal way to “Define” 4K was as hard to find as just what constitutes sex (whether in the Oval Office or not!). Problem is, the usual equation with ultra-high definition is misleading because that standard has two (so far) levels: 4K and 8K.
But perhaps the most provoking word of the lot is and will be—for the foreseeable future (an expression in and of itself an oxymoron when it comes to predicting the next big thing in the increasingly consumer-driven electronics marketplace)—“Deliver.”
With the much-touted approval of the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding, aka H.265) codec for direct-to-home useage last January, and the continuing hype about 4K video (notably the latter’s huge increase of pixels—made possible for wide adoption, theoretically by the former’s ~50% improvement in compression, resulting in little if any need to increase bandwidth), it seems that only consumer electronics manufacturers could be the “fly in the ointment” for a smooth rollout of television (film already embraces 4K; YouTube has used it for three years)—wherever it can be seen—becoming a truly “immersive environment” for reality-starved viewers. (One can hardly wait for Scent TV to complete the total experience.)
Time and time again, delegates were reminded that the first iteration of HD “never produced a nickel” much less a solid return on investment for broadcasters and distributors. Yet that “cost of doing business,” equally hyped innovation (1999) paled in comparison to the decidedly unspectacular launch/adoption of 3-D TV.
Many speakers and participants alike were clearly nervous that if 4K was rolled out to unwitting consumers without all of its bells and whistles up and running so as to astonish on every screen—large or small (not just at mega sports bars and football stadiums), then pesky consumers might well take to social media and mock all of those precious brands that are bent on securing subscribers’ cash while simultaneously providing value-seeking advertisers with the ultimate one-to-one connection with new customers and old.
No small stakes indeed.
Notable quotes/questions from the sessions and seminars:
Multi-Platform Television: Navigating the Path to the Connected Consumer
Moderator: Roger Charlesworth, President, Charlesworth Media
“Sports has been the big driver…86% of viewers use [second screen] devices while watching TV.” (Eric Black, NBC Sports Group)
“Living room watching [of TV] is one to many; device watching is one to one…Next year, [technology] will allow mobile viewers’ ratings to roll up to TV ratings.” (Paul Spears, SVP, Nielsen Company)
“In 1993, the final episode of M*A*S*H had over 100 million viewers. [Due to audience fragmentation] nothing has come near that since.” “No more ‘digital’ islands in our sales force.” “[Contrary to earlier expectations] streaming does not cannibalize traditional broadcasting; it boosts prime time shows.” (Christopher D. Blandy, Executive VP, Business Operations & Solutions, Fox)
Q: What is the future?
A: Talk to my phone and get the content I want. Smart TV: Turn it on and go [no more menu mazes and authentication issues]—It’s got to be simple.
Q: What are the obstacles?
A: The needs of business more than technological challenges.
Streaming Media Theater: Get a Head Start on Your HEVC Implementation
Speaker: Mark Cousins, Senior Product Manager, Elemental Technologies
“HEVC allows for much larger areas of prediction space…[to provide an] improved visual experience at the same bit rate. “If Netflix uses 4K [streaming channel], others will follow and need HEVC.” “Wait a bit before buying a new [4K capable] TV until the licensing issues are sorted out.” “It will take at least a 55” screen to notice any [appreciable] difference. “[Proof of concept] came when the Osaka Marathon was broadcast [in 4K] in real time.”
Note: Cousins declined comments when asked to compare 3-D with 4K.
Streaming Media Theater: The Challenge of Multiplatform Distribution
Moderator: Bob Zitter, consultant, former CTO, HBO
“[Apart from broadcasting], our content can be found at various brand sites and watch apps.” “Like Apple, DISH, etc., we have management [of content] and archive issues.” (Craig Hunsinger, VP, Production Services, A+E Networks)
“When repurposing content, we aren’t required to caption everything but there are many [music, NFL footage] licensing issues.”
Q: What about [maintaining] quality [when programming is reformatted for various devices]?
A: We test with new clients for every request; if [the result] isn’t correct, social media will speak. Last-minute changes are often due to rights [issues].
Next-Generation Content Distribution: Getting 4K to the House
Moderator: Ken Kerschbaumer, Executive Director, Editorial Video Group
“Home is not [yet] ready [for 4K]; the Internet is.” “3-D rollout was a flop; and was not natural [glasses were required].” (Mark Francisco, Fellow of Premise Technologies, Comcast Cable)
“There will be no true 4K this year.” “To fully appreciate the difference [with ‘true’ 4K], viewers need to be 1.5 vertical heights away from their screens.” “To avoid stuttering [often due to a frame rate of 24 fps], 60 fps is needed; the eco-system for the home does not exist yet.” (Matthew Goldman, SVP, TV compression, Ericsson Television, who dominated the conversation by cutting off his colleagues and jumping in on every issue; the moderator seldom intervened; several in the audience quietly voiced their displeasure.)
Q. “Who is driving [TV] content?: The producers or the manufacturers?”
Q: What can we do to make 4K more compelling [than 3-D]?
A: Use FIFA (2014 World Cup] as a showcase; show 4K off in movie theatres and sports bars. Ensure that content producers learn how to use all of the 4K possibilities (sound, colourization, depth) not just the enhanced resolution.
Note: In summary, what seems true for excellence in film and video productions should also drive improvements in the viewing experience: Show, don’t tell. JWR