Small Cable Operators Blazing Trail for Commercial Ultra HD

The largest MVPDs (Multichannel Video Programming Distributors) are often the first to unveil the big industry breakthroughs. But, as Tier 1 providers work toward new products such as TV everywhere, skinny bundles and OTT delivery, some of the smallest cable, telcos and IPTV operators are laser focused on accelerating their Ultra HD launches for an edge in highly competitive markets.  

These smaller telcos and cable systems have found the cost-effective advantage they needed in the content-rich, pre-packaged Ultra HD platform we began developing three years ago at SES. The end-to-end solution combines the world’s largest 4K channel lineup, secure satellite distribution and reception gear - enabling operators of all sizes to commercialize their Ultra HD services years ahead of industry forecasts.  As a result, a growing number of cable and IPTV operators are making television history in some of the most unexpected places.

Today, an increasing number of Tier 3 and Tier 4 MVPDs have already leveraged the platform to launch their commercial Ultra HD services in the U.S. Most of them have started deploying their 4K set top boxes to subscriber homes. Operators that have launched commercially include

-Marquette-Adams, an innovative operator based in Oxford, Wisconsin, 60 miles north of Madison, is meeting subscriber demand for Ultra HD content.
-Highlands Cable Group, a forward-thinking provider in Western North Carolina that first joined the trials last year and has started rolling out its Ultra HD subscriber packages. of Chattanooga Tennessee, who broke out early with its Ultra HD plans and deployment, playing a key role in the acceleration of Ultra HD.

Lessons Learned

We recognized early on the “chicken and the egg” challenge of Ultra HD. Without compelling content, MVPDs would not quickly roll out 4K technology, and without MVPDs and their viewers able to receive Ultra HD, programmers would not develop 4K content.

By patiently driving content development as well as MVPD trials and deployments, always keeping in mind the need to be flexible to meet new opportunities in an evolving market, we have been able to circumvent the long time period that some predicted for the roll-out and commercialization of Ultra HD. In fact, we’ve been able to cut the time in half from concept to commercial linear Ultra HD delivery, when compared to HD.

As 4K set-top-boxes (STBs) and more content become increasingly available, more than 30 cable and IPTV operators are currently testing the pre-packaged Ultra HD solution. Participants include Hotwire, Cincinnati Bell, Verizon and Frontier Communications. Approaches to delivery include Ultra HD via DOCSIS as well as traditional delivery via QAM digital TV.  This dual strategy enables MVPDs to not only utilize existing infrastructure, but also begin to prepare for future linear IP video delivery.

The expanding bouquet of Ultra HD content, the largest in the world, features NASA TV UHD, Fashion One 4K, C4K360, 4KUNIVERSE, UHD1, Funbox UHD, Nature Relaxation 4K, a pivotal demonstration channel, and two HDR channels, Travelxp 4K and INSIGHT TV. We expect the 4K lineup of sports, general entertainment, and live event channels to double over the next 18 months.

Compelling content plus success among the smaller operators has helped open the door to some of the largest Pay TV providers in the world to begin initiating their own trials – bumping the representative subscriber base to well over 10 million.

Beyond Capacity

Over the course of creating the Ultra HD solution, we’ve accomplished 100% cable penetration aboard a trio of satellites that make up the go-to cable distribution platform at the center of the orbital arc over North America.

The roll-out of Ultra HD is on fast forward. As large operators also prepare to launch their own 4K offerings in the weeks and months ahead, it should not be long before Ultra HD via satellite is widely available across the U.S.

-Steve Corda is vice president of business development for SES in North America