SES, MVPDs Partner to Launch Commercial Ultra-HD in the US
Two Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs) have officially launched the first ever commercial Ultra-HD services to cable and Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) subscriber homes in North America. Marquette-Adams of Oxford, Wisconsin, and Highlands Cable Group of Highlands, North Carolina, will begin to introduce Ultra-HD content to their customers using SES’ satellite-delivered Ultra-HD platform.
Both companies initiated their transition to Ultra-HD after completing consumer trials alongside more than 20 other MVPDs, altogether boasting a combined audience of around 10 million subscribers. According to Steve Corda, vice president of business development for SES, additional Ultra-HD packages will hit the market over the next few months as more operators reach the ends of their trials.
Marquette-Adams and Highlands Cable Group have yet to specify how exactly they will package the content for their customers, but Corda said there are a few paths they can take. Of course, one option is for the operators to offer Ultra-HD content as an additional subscription that customers can tack onto their regular cable bundle, not unlike the HBO business model. But Corda said he hopes most operators will take a less segmented approach and make the content available to all of their subscribers across the board.
“That will help create a lot more awareness of Ultra-HD, as opposed to putting it in a standalone tier which is only available to the select few,” he said. “The number of Ultra-HD TVs that are now in [U.S.] households is upwards of 20 percent. We think there’s a potential wide audience, and it’s really about making sure they know about Ultra-HD’s availability.”
SES currently offers nine commercial 4K channels and one demo channel in its platform, which Corda said is more than he thought the company would have at this point. “I was targeting somewhere along four,” he said. Over the next year or so, Corda said he could easily see the number increasing from 10 to 20. “And perhaps again it will exceed my expectations,” he added.
Corda said that one of SES’ channels, Travelxp 4K, is unique in that it based on the hybrid log gamma version of High Dynamic Range (HDR). “It’s backwards compatible, which means that if you were to view it on a Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) TV, it would look great,” he said. “Some of the other formats don’t have that capability, so if you have a TV set that didn’t have those non-compatible formats then you wouldn’t be able to see it at all, or if you did the picture quality would be subpar.” Ideally, SES hopes to leverage channels with such formats to accommodate households that have yet to upgrade to Ultra-HD TV sets.
One of the biggest bottlenecks to Ultra-HD’s growth is the volume of content available. Filming in Ultra-HD is becoming increasingly common, but spinning that content into a full channel can be a lengthy process. SES is expediting that process, Corda said, by taking an end-to-end approach to its platform that extends beyond just offering capacity, including handling back-end services and the provisioning of cable head-ends. As a result, Corda said SES was able to grow some of its content providers into fully realized channels in a matter of months. “It’s a very quick on-ramp,” he said.
Researchers have speculated there will be nearly 800 Ultra-HD channels by 2025, with the satellite capacity required to carry those channels adding $280 million a year in leasing revenues. Moreover, the rapidly decreasing cost of new 4K/Ultra-HD TVs suggests it will grow at a faster rate than HD when it was first introduced. Corda is thus optimistic that the Ultra-HD niche can become a major revenue stream for SES, especially as it begins to expand beyond the North American borders.
At the moment, SES’ North America Ultra-HD multiplex is visible in Canada, the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Corda also noted that should SES find opportunities to distribute Ultra-HD content in places like Canada, it wouldn’t require any additional satellite capacity. “That certainly would be available just with the current technology,” he said. In the long-term, it’s likely SES will bring its services to overseas regions as Ultra-HD penetration continues to expand in countries such as South Korea, where KT SkyLife already offers three channels.
“Our vision was that if you were able to provide an efficient end-to-end platform, that would help enable this rapid acceleration of adoption. And I think today that’s what we’re seeing,” Corda said.