4K/8K Video

SES Banks on World Cup for 4K Kick

Shooting to spread its UHD reach to another part of the world, SES has launched 4K TV service to pay-TV providers in Latin America even as it broadens its 4K footprint throughout North America.

SES S.A. (Paris: SESG) has started pitching five UHD channels in Latin America, including Fashion One 4K, NASA TV UHD and a promo channel that it bills as "an incubator channel for emerging 4K content producers." The global satellite operator's plans call for offering a sixth UHD channel shortly and then adding several more when a new communications bird, SES-14, begins commercial operation in September.

SES, which also delivers larger lineups of UHD channels to pay-TV providers in the US, Europe and elsewhere, is making a big push in Latin America now to take advantage of the 2018 World Cup, which will kick off in Russia in two weeks. Company officials are counting on the popularity of the quadrennial soccer tournament to prompt Latin American pay-TV providers to sign up for 4K service so they can show World Cup action in UHD to millions of soccer fans.

Despite the World Cup's certain appeal in Latin America and elsewhere, 4K TV service may still be a tough sell to service providers because they need to install pricey new set-tops in subscribers' homes for the UHD feeds. Also, 4K signals can eat up a lot of bandwidth, leaving providers with relatively little room for carrying other content.

But SES executives think they can overcome these hurdles by providing 4K delivery to customer set-tops in a variety of ways. For one thing, they are offering UHD transport streams over both QAM and IP systems, depending on the service provider. For another, they are testing ways to deliver 4K transport streams over cable's DOCSIS specs. Finally, looking to extend their reach beyond TV set-tops, they are exploring the use of IP video and adaptive bit rate (ABR) technology to deliver 4K streams to tablets and other mobile devices.

Acknowledging the bandwidth issue that UHD poses, SES officials are leveraging the new HEVC encoding spec to ease the load on pay-TV providers, delivering 4K streams of non-sports programming at 18 Mbit/s. They are also open to deploying AV1, the royalty-free, next-gen video codec that's expected to play a major role in OTT video. (See Could the AV1 Codec Crush HEVC? )

“We’re pretty agnostic," said Steve Corda, vice president of media platforms for SES in North America, speaking at the NAB Show in Las Vegas last month. "We would welcome being able to deliver the same quality at lower data rates.”

SES' 4K evangelizing efforts, which come as the company is also beginning to stage 8K video demos, are starting to gain traction in Latin America. In a phone interview, Corda said SES has signed up one Mexican pay-TV provider, Total Play Telecomunicaciones S.A. de C.V., so far and, with four or five other providers now testing the service, expects to land several larger providers over the next few months. He said the company also expects to announce carriage deals with at least one major TV programmer over the summer.

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Unlike in the US, where SES has predominantly signed up Tier 2 and Tier 3 pay-TV providers for its portfolio of a dozen 4K channels, company executives expect to land several larger operators first. SES now counts 35 to 40 cable operators, telcos, satellite providers and other pay TV operators as 4K customers in the US -- including Armstrong Utilities, Buckeye Broadband, Dish Network, Service Electric Cable TV and WideOpenWest – and is eyeing expansion northwards to Canada.

"In North America, it was smaller operators building up to larger ones," Corda said. "It's just the opposite in Latin America."

Questioned about the business model for service providers to offer 4K content to subscribers, SES officials said their customers are toying with several different options right now. These include adding 4K services to the basic channel lineup, placing UHD channels on a new premium tier, embedding them into an existing premium package or creating a technology-focused package that encompasses 4K channels, OTT networks and DVR service.

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

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