Pop up TV channels: Globecast’s Liz McParland on UHD 4K challenges and trials

Everyone is talking about 4K UHD, from manufacturers to broadcasters and consumers. But how easy is it to actually get this quality of broadcast to the viewer? SVG Europe talked to Globecast’s Liz McParland, commercial director for contribution and global coordination, about UHD 4K challenges, trials and pop up channels.

Virgin Media has recently launched its first UHD TV channel, the first of its kind in the UK. When do you think we’ll see more channels arriving, and what are the issues facing TV providers and broadcasters in getting UHD into living rooms?

Globecast’s Liz McParland

In our experience, financial constraints currently mean that many broadcasters are reluctant to make heavy investments in 4K services and are therefore looking to cloud or virtualised solutions to test the market with particular events, such as FIFA World Cup matches. Then there’s market-leading services like Virgin Media’s recently launched (in partnership with us,) Ultra HD TV channel, which is available to its top tier subscribers in the evening until the early hours, and designed to bring viewers high quality 4K content in great resolution.

I think we will see more activities like this rather than 24/7/365 4K channels being launched. That said, we also see broadcasters beginning to realise that image quality can act as a differentiator for premium content versus lower resolution streaming services and this may drive an increase in the use of 4K.

We will continue to see more growth with on-demand than with linear. However, the cost of technology to achieve UHD playout continues to drop; we can handle 4K for less than it cost us to run an HD channel a couple of years ago. And the wide adoption of high compression video codecs like HEVC in consumer devices makes lower bandwidth B2C distribution more viable.

There are always some technical challenges with UHD (for example higher dynamic ranges and video bit depths,) but these are not insurmountable. For operators, the availability of network capacity and/or cost effective distribution is still key, even with high video compression!

How does sport impact the growth of technology like 4K TVs filtering down to end users?

Sport has a big impact on the growth of these technologies. Live events are a key tool in the attraction and retention of audiences. But the cost of rights continues to increase. This means that rights holding broadcasters are constantly pushing to achieve the best possible engagement of their fans and these events are therefore seen as great opportunities to test innovation.

We know from speaking to broadcasters and operators that the FIFA World Cup 2018 saw a spike in 4K TV sales. It’s also true that the adoption of 4K technologies at the acquisition stage is gradually leading to the adoption of related 4K technologies further along the chain.

Technologies such as 4K (particularly with HDR, or HD with HDR for that matter,) can help broadcasters create a more immersive sports viewing experience for fans; it’s a way to entice pay-TV cordcutters back to subscription – or pay per view – TV.

There is an inherent power to the shared experience of watching a live sports event on a big TV set in the living room and 4K only adds to that. This will always bring people together; the better experience you provide your viewers with, the longer they will continue watching, which only serves to increase ROI.

Live sports broadcasting requires higher frame rates than general entertainment or most movie content. The key challenge is how to move to 4K cost effectively. Globecast has clearly shown we know how to help customers do this.

How does or can Globecast’s Digital Media Hub enable broadcasters to get UHD to viewers, for instance in the form of pop-up channels and how can pop-up channels move the 4K revolution forward?

Globecast talks Digital Media Hub’s at IBC 2018

By aggregating multiple virtualised and cloud-based technologies into a single ecosystem, Digital Media Hub allows a live feed to be treated in multiple ways to create content suitable for cross-platform use, in both real time or at a later date. It allows rights holders to create linear, OTT, short and long form VoD as well as social media content in order to engage viewers regardless of platform or device and, in turn, to maximize monetisation. This is all from a single supplier.

While this can be used for 4K live feeds, it’s our recently launched cloud playout services (again, see the Virgin Media example,) via which other pop-up channels are more likely to be created. Because cloud playout uses an OPEX not CAPEX model, with playout capacity able to be quickly and easily scaled up or down without financial penalty, channels can be launched incredibly quickly.

This is about the ability for customers to try markets without having to make large investments. They can do this for a single event or series of events, be it a sport event, a celebrity event such as an award show, or a political or social event like a royal wedding. We may see a blurring of pop-up and permanent. We could see broadcasters starting with one-off events and then moving from this to recurring events; it doesn’t have to be a 24×7 channel anymore.

Do you have any clients currently working on launching pop-up channels? Why and what are they planning to do with those channels?

We do, but we can’t disclose with whom at this stage. The customer aim is to test certain content in a specific market, the first time the customer has worked in that market. Beyond that, our lips are currently sealed.

We do think it’s worth adding that, at the moment, 4K is still very much a work in progress as far as the market – including consumers – is concerned. Sports coverage is, as so often, leading the way but we are clearly a long way from this being a massmarket proposition. It’s why the flexibility that’s inherent with cloud playout is so important for its advancement.

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