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4K Slowly Gets Into the Picture

If adoption of HDTV was a Sprint, achieving broad acceptance of 4K is proving to be closer to a marathon — on a real hot day. But SES, which markets an increasingly popular soup-to-nuts 4K/HDR solution for pay TV operators, said it’s making progress.

Steve Corda, vice president of Americas media platforms for SES, told Multichannel News that his company’s Ultra HD Platform now has an estimated viewership of more than 500,000 pay TV homes, with regular live-sports events produced by Fox Sports driving viewership.

Steve Corda

Steve Corda

Corda concedes that it’s a rough estimate. Through its Ultra HD Platform, SES offers pay TV operators a dozen 4K networks, including Insight TV and NASA TV UHD, as well as a live-events channel. The Ultra HD Platform includes everything from ingest to encoding and distribution to the set-top box.

SES’s North American partner list for the platform includes Armstrong Utilities, Dish Network, Frontier Communications, Buckeye Broadband, RCN, Service Electric and WideOpenWest. A number of tier-1 operators have the platform in various forms of trial, Corda said.

All told, Corda estimates that MVPDs which have commercially deployed the 4K platform collectively reach around 65 million video subscribers. He also postulates that around half of North American pay TV homes have 4K TVs.

How many of these pay TV users with 4K sets actually have the right set-top to watch 4K programming, let alone pay for the service? Corda doesn’t get that information from the operator partners, but he can hazard an educated guess.

“We’re probably in around 2%” of pay TV homes reached by the solution’s operator partners, Corda said. “But last year at this time, we were probably at 0.1%.” Putting it another way, “I would say we’re reaching hundreds of thousands” of pay TV homes,” he noted. “Last year, I probably would say it was in the tens of thousands.”

Last fall, Fox Sports began partnering with SES to deliver 4K sports events including college football, Major League Baseball, NASCAR and men’s college basketball.

Corda said that SES will deliver around 100 Fox Sports events in 4K HDR this year on its platform’s live events channel, all at 22 Mbps using HEVC.

“When we started providing live sports is when we started seeing a significant uptick,” Corda said. “In fact, some of the folks that we trial with went to commercial deployment just because of that.”