Over the past several years Vivicast Media has worked to expand its 4K/UHD and HDR activities and, as a result of our pioneering efforts in next generation formats, we are positioned in an unusual and unique position within the television industry. We not only license 4K and HDR content to operators all over the world, but we are also responsible for acquiring content and scheduling a 4K channel in the U.S.A.
It is interesting to note that while that seems quite a comfortable position to be in as we are a buyer and a licensor, this is not entirely as easy as it looks. Over the past three years we have seen some major changes in the 4K content that is available as well as the 4K requirements of operators. I have been asked many times by producers what type of content is selling in today’s market and how much it is worth – logical questions to ask someone that licenses content but they are difficult to answer.
It would appear there is a well-trodden path that the 4K and HDR formats are treading as was demonstrated in the early days of HD content. Live Sports has, and probably will, always lead the way. However the majority of our producer partners are not shooting live sports and instead are creating works of art – programming that needs to remain timeless or at least relevant for years to come.
While speaking to an audience at MIP TV in 2016 where the majority of 4K content was either scenic landscapes or wildlife I said the following, “One of the key areas that we and our broadcast partners have specifically set out to achieve is that content however beautifully must have a story or narrative that is capable of holding our viewer’s attention but still show cases Ultra High definition”. These words are as true today as they were back in April 2016.
Since then, there has been an emergence of HDR (High Dynamic Range) content, accompanied by an increasing appetite for 4K HDR content from broadcasters and operators. The early 4K HDR content concentrated heavily on landscapes and wildlife as these categories obviously showcase the immersive picture quality of 4K HDR. Moving forward, compelling imagery needs to be married to equally dramatic storylines. A perfect example of this trend the recent work by filmmaker Thierry Donard, a prominent figure in Extreme Sports. There is a growing abundance of 4K Extreme Sports content – with much of the programming relying on the speed of the sport and corresponding vivid pictures. Thierry takes it to the next level by getting all of this into his work but also telling memorable stories about the athletes that adds structure and depth to his work. If you get the opportunity to view his work it is worth the time.
My advice to my producer friends and colleagues is that even if they are selling mainly 1080 HD content they should start to shoot everything in 4K HDR, you can always downgrade to HD but if you have the source material in the highest quality resolution you are more likely to be able to sell that content in the future. As a licensor and buyer we are well aware that the post production costs of HDR can be seen as expensive, this will change and the post costs will surely come down in price.
One producer said to me that they believe that 1080 HDR is probably more acceptable to broadcasters than 4K HDR because the bandwidth to deliver 1080 is so much less. They are not entirely incorrect in their statement about bandwidth but, as consumers start to demand 4K and 4K HDR from their broadcaster/Cable Company (see the latest estimates of households with 4K TVs) and the technology starts to work towards codecs that reduce the bandwidth requirements, it would be my advice that the content is shot in 4K HDR.
Stuart Smitherman serves as President of Vivicast Media, a pioneer in the worldwide distribution of high quality 4K programming and full-time television networks broadcasting 4K entertainment.