4K Action Picks Up

The 4K market is still small, but the emerging video format got a big lift last week ahead of the holiday buying season as DirecTV, M-GO and Amazon introduced content offerings or shed more light on their Ultra HD plans.

Beating Comcast to the punch, satellite-TV provider DirecTV became the first U.S. multichannel video programing distributor (MVPD) to launch a 4K service, starting off with a library of 19 pay-per-view movies and documentaries, including Forrest Gump, Star Trek (2009) and Amistad, that sell in the range of $3.99 to $15.99 per title. Initially, access to that library is limited to Samsung Ultra HDTV models used in tandem with DirecTV’s Internet-connected Genie HD-DVR (model HR34 and above). DirecTV is expected to add some live content to its 4K mix in 2015.

Comcast said it is on track to launch its first 4K offering, a streaming app for Samsung Ultra HDTVs, by the end of the year.

M-GO, the Technicolor/DreamWorks Animation electronic sell-through joint venture, also launched its slate of 4K content, also limited to Samsung-made UHD sets early on. Billed as the first Ultra HD “transactional” 4K VOD streaming service for the U.S. market, M-GO started off with 70 titles, including Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Giver, Power, Ghost in the Shell and Limitless, with plans to expand to 100 titles by the end of 2014. An M-GO official said the company’s Ultra HD content will be priced, on average, at $1 to $2 more than HD titles offered for rent, and $3 to $5 more for purchase.

But not all 4K content will come at a premium. Amazon announced last week that its Prime subscribers will have free access to 4K titles offered via the company’s Prime Instant Video service, including such originals as Transparent and Alpha House.

They’re all dipping their toes into a budding market. Parks Associates predicts more than 46 million homes worldwide will subscribe to a 4K pay TV service by 2018, and that 4K TVs will follow a similar, but faster, growth rate as HD sets. While it took 15 years for HDTVs to penetrate 82% of U.S. homes, Parks Associates sees 4K TVs topping 80% domestic penetration in 10 to 12 years.