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4K can help TV take on “the new barbarians” says France Télévisions

Eric Scherer

Eric Scherer

MIPCOM attendees heard yesterday that broadcasters will continue to experiment with 4K TV as a hedge against new media entrants, with France Télévisions promising a push VoD trial later this year.

Eric Scherer, director of future media, France Télévisions, speaking on a 4K panel session in Cannes yesterday, said that the broadcaster was experimenting with 4K as a hedge against the advance of “the new barbarians” – meaning the likes of Netflix and YouTube – and “kids who are filming 4K and putting it on YouTube”.

Scherer said that France Télévisions will test a new push VoD delivery of 4K at the end of this year, having already experimented with the format, for example with 4K coverage of the Roland Garros tennis tournament.  France Télévisions has also already experimented in a limited way with HbbTV-based push VoD technology, he said. The new trial will involve the download of content in quiet periods – for example, overnight – when bandwidth demand is less, said Scherer.

“We will test on IP platforms and with push content. We are not ready to launch a 4K channel,” he said. “The main problem is to convince people in the company because it is expensive and there is no content yet. We have to convince them it’s not like 3D.”

Scherer said he believed 4K would be more successful than 3D because consumers wanted to make the most of equipment, that is becoming widely available, to view it. “4K is different,” he said. “My laptop has a retinal screen. The new iMac will have 5K. These guys are accelerating and we need to be more ready.”

Scherer said that he thought costs of producing 4K content are about 30% to 40% higher than HD, but generally closer to 30%. He said post-production costs are significantly higher because of the amount of time it takes to post-produce 4K.

Scherer said he believed there might be two 4K linear channels on air in France in five years time.

Gary Davey, EVP of programming at Sky Deutschland, speaking on the same panel, said that 4K needs to add value and make viewers think differently about the medium. He said Sky had experimented with 4K coverage of football, which had made the company think about revising the way it covers football, with locked off wideshots that take the viewer from goal to goal. “It’s not going to reinvent movie making but it might change the way we think about a lot of other production.”

Davey said costs of production depended on what you were producing. “It’s very expensive with football. The processing is a nightmare still and it’s still work in progress in many ways,” he said. “Most of us are making a transition to originating content in 4K now at least.”

Davey said it is unlikely that all production will migrate to 4K soon. Currently, he said, people are focusing on higher resolution ratther than improvements in colour and other things that 4K can provide. “End-to-end 4K workflow with a lot of cameras involves a big investment. It will take us some time to decide to spend that money,” he said.

Davey said he believed it would take about five years to get a couple of linear channels on air. “It will be rarefied space. We are also making a transition between linear and on-demand,” he said.

He said he believed that 4K distribution will start with special events before a channel becomes available. He said that pay TV companies had a possible advantage over internet companies including Netflix that are now being forced to pay for bandwidth. “What are they going to have to pay the infrastructure people to get uninterrupted distribution in 4K is a mystery, including to them,” he said.

Speaking on a separate panel session on 4K distribution and the challenge of the last mile, Simon Fell, director of technology and evolution at the EBU, said that 4K would likely initially be distributed over IP. Fell said mass events delivered over the internet would not work however. Multicasting could help but is not available everywhere, he said. “The studio facilities are not ready and reinvestment will take a long time.”

Fell cautioned that 4K resolution alone would be unlikely to make a huge impact on large numbers of consumers. He said that high dynamic range and higher frame rates made a huge difference in the way people perceive 4K and argued that it is important to align all pieces of 4K delivery before attempting to market the technology more widely available.

Maryline Clare-Charrier, 4EVER project leader at Orange Labs, said that 4K is one component of UHD including motion, colours and contrasts as well as resolution. “The question is how to make something that’s so much better that people will buy new TV sets,” she said.

Michel Chabrol, director of marketing, 4K at Eutelsat, also speaking on the panel, said that it is possible that pay TV platforms will introduce event channels from next year with HEVC encoding. Some national broadcasters may test DVB-T2 and HEVC-based 4K on terrestrial platforms by 2017. the other possibility for early adoption is live 4K transmissions to cinemas.