4K/8K Video

Leading Lights 2016 Finalists: Most Innovative Video Service

No matter how it may get delivered, video is still the communications service that consumers crave the most.

That's why cable operators, satellite TV providers, telcos and Internet video providers are all developing and deploying new video services, features and apps at a faster clip than ever before. Despite the continued erosion of pay-TV subscribers in the critical North American market (or maybe precisely because of that erosion), service providers are now trotting out fresh video offerings designed to attract new customers while keeping existing subscribers in place.

In particular, traditional service providers are racing to introduce new IP-enabled streaming video products to consumers. The providers are hoping that these products will either enable them to compete more effectively with over-the-top (OTT) video rivals or, in some cases, actually take advantage of OTT services by integrating them into their conventional pay-TV offerings.

In selecting the three finalists for most innovative video service, we looked for video services that have made strong early headway in the market and earned favorable reviews from independent third parties. We also looked for entries that have created strong industry buzz with, well, an innovative approach.

For more on this year's three finalists, read on. The winners, as well as the latest class of Light Reading Hall of Fame inductees, will be announced at the Leading Lights awards gala on Monday, May 23, at the Hotel Ella in Austin, Texas. For more details, please see this Leading Lights 2016 awards dinner page. On the following day, the Big Communications Event 2016 opens its doors for two days of networking and learning.

DirecTV 4K Ultra HD Service
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s new DirecTV unit made a big splash in early April when it started delivering The Masters Tournament in 4K, making it the first US pay-TV provider to stream a live sporting event in UHD. DirecTV then followed up this first with the announcement that it would show 25 MLB games in UHD this season, starting with an April 15 matchup between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers. The satellite TV provider also launched three channels dedicated exclusively to 4K programming.

In a sign of just how tough this task can be, all did not go quite as planned with the MLB telecasts. First, DirecTV scrubbed the first UHD broadcast on April 15 because of a "technical issue" with a third-party field production truck. Then it downgraded its second planned 4K broadcast on April 19 to an internal test. But, after two swings and misses, DirecTV connected solidly the third time, delivering the April 29 clash between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox live in UHD.

Since then, DirecTV has carried three more baseball games in 4K and plans to show another four games this season for a total of eight, well down from the original line-up of 25 games, But that's still eight more games than any other US pay-TV provider is planning to telecast. DirecTV also just announced plans to show live UHD coverage of the 17th hole of the AT&T Byron Nelson Tournament this coming weekend.

Hulu on Optimum TV Channel 605
More than any other major US cable operator, Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) is working hard to integrate OTT video offerings into its existing pay-TV packages. Early last month the nation's fifth-largest cable provider completed the technically challenging task of integrating Hulu into its channel line-up, nearly a year after announcing plans to resell the online video service.

Leveraging technology from ActiveVideo , which renders online content as an MPEG video stream, Cablevision is rolling out Hulu on channel 605 for Optimum TV subscribers willing to pay an extra monthly fee. Hulu LLC -- which is owned by Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), 21st Century Fox and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s NBCUniversal LLC -- offers a basic subscription service for $8 per month and a commercial-free option for $12 per month.

A vocal proponent of over-the-top video, Cablevision has struck deals with several online video providers and even promotes a "cord cutter" package that pairs a free over-the-air digital TV antenna with Optimum broadband service. The latest integration with Hulu, though, introduces a significant twist to the OTT narrative, giving the MSO an alternative on-demand content supplier or a new premium channel, depending on the way you look at it. Either way, both Cablevision and its video subscribers should benefit.

TWCTV Roku Trial
As it prepares to exit the US cable stage, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), is aiming to leave behind one more lasting legacy -- the promising development of an IP-only pay-TV service in tandem with Roku Inc. .

In his final earnings chat with financial analysts late last month, Time Warner Cable Chairman & CEO Rob Marcus reported that the nation's second-largest MSO has seen "encouraging" results so far from its beta trial of an IP-only TV service in New York City. As part of that beta trial, which started last fall, Time Warner Cable is delivering all 300-plus channels from its standard cable line-up as unicast video streams to Roku streaming media box users over the MSO's own managed network.

TWC executives portray the New York trial as the first step in the transition to a set-top-free, all-IP future, enabling them to substitute a full video offering for their traditional set-top box-based video product. Marcus contends that the IP video trial with Roku is proof that cable operators like TWC are now more willing than ever to offer customers innovative new types of video delivery. "That's where the industry is going," he said. "In the past, we were much less responsive to what customers wanted."

Let us know what you think of these most innovative video service finalists. Feel free to weigh in on the message boards below, suggest alternatives and make your case for your own personal favorites. As always, we welcome your comments.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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