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Broadcasters need to make technology work for them

While new technologies can potentially bring many benefits, broadcasters also need to be aware of the pitfalls that arise if they are poorly delivered.

By Shawn Liew

The glib phrases roll off the tongue of the tenacious salesperson, desperate to sell the latest 60-inch 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) TV model to arrive at his megastore.
He is ably aided by the stunning native 4K/UHD promotional content playing across the screen, each intricate detail a technical marvel in itself.

Then comes the coup de grace that seals the deal: “So, everything I watch on this TV will look this good?”

“Absolutely.”

Now, what is wrong with the answer?

As the above act actually took place in an Asian setting (and personally witnessed by this author), the likelihood of the consumer enjoying the full benefits of 4K/UHD are remote, to say the very least.

For starters, there is a dearth of native 4K/UHD content available in many countries across the region, where HD is not even prevalent yet. And in the event that 4K/UHD content is available, do consumers then know that for the 60-inch 4K/UHD screen, they need to sit at half the distance of what they are used to for the 60-inch HD screen, in order to perceive the full image resolution of 4K/UHD?

In today’s highly congested and competitive media space, technologies are key enablers that not only allow broadcasters and media companies to achieve cost and workflow efficiencies, but also offer a more compelling viewing experience that increases viewer stickiness.

Seen from the latter perspective, “highly visible” technologies such as 4K/UHD and VR come to the fore because they are directly manifested in what viewers see on their screens. When done correctly, the results can be hugely gratifying — and rewarding.

However, as the opening example showed, the average viewer may think that the purchase of the TV set is sufficient to obtain stunning viewing experience; neither will they be impressed that they have to sit at a certain distance to the TV in order to enjoy 4K/UHD content.

These are, perhaps, some of the reasons why Asia-Pacific, as a region, is not yet ready for the widespread roll-out of 4K/UHD services.

Clearly, more consumer education is required, and as long as a large number of countries in Asia-Pacific continue to keep analogue broadcast on air, it is hard to see many broadcasters making significant investments in 4K/UHD content.

High dynamic range (HDR) has been touted by many as the answer, because it will eliminate the viewing distance conundrum. 4K HDR, while increasingly a buzz word — and a logo on the latest TV models — is still a moot point if broadcasters are not ready to both create and deliver 4K/UHD content.

For broadcasters already offering HD services, can HD + HDR be a viable alternative to deliver the same quality as 4K/UHD, but at a lower cost?

In the APB May 2018 edition, we will be examining in more details the recent HD HDR mobile trial conducted by BT Sports in the UK.

This is not to suggest that 4K/UHD should be dismissed out of hand; but if this is the technology route that broadcasters choose to go on, due diligence needs to be exercised before launch.

Because, unlike the rather deceitful salesperson, the broadcast industry cannot afford to “sell” 4K/UHD if all the elements in the entire ecosystem are not available to create a compelling product that truly appeals to viewers.


Shawn Liew is managing editor of Asia-Pacific Broadcasting (APB), the B2B publication that has been monitoring the trends and technologies impacting the broadcast and media industry for the past 35 years.
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