Summit ’16: Turning 4K problems into opportunities

During "Keeping Up with 4K," a group of leading producers, programmers and product manufacturers put the delivery format into sharper focus by detailing how to best utilize the resolution nipping at the television industry's heels.
February 3, 2016

The burgeoning delivery format of 4K has surfaced as one of the hottest topics of conversation in recent months. While few producers are currently developing content in the medium, fewer still have an understanding of how best to employ the resolution.

During “Keeping Up with 4K,” a group of leading producers, programmers and product manufacturers put the medium into sharper focus by detailing how to best utilize the resolution nipping at the television industry’s heels.

“I’m pretty wary on the next new thing because we all got so excited on 3D – I used to write articles about what our 3D strategy was,” said panel moderator and Arrow Media creative director John Smithson. “We just thought it was great, we were all going to be doing it and the budgets were going to be huge, but it just disappeared.”

While Smithson and others like him may slowly be experimenting with 4K while questioning whether the format really is a game changer, others have been striking while the iron is hot.

For content creators looking at their slates in the hopes of turning their projects into multi-platform tent pole franchises, filming content intended for theatrical release in 4K, and titles intended for television in 4K Ultra HD (UHD) is the only option, says Sony Electronics senior sales support engineer Mike DesRoches.

“If you’re only shooting in HD, for instance, it’s only going to be limited to HD models,” he explained. “Over-the-top and SVOD platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu – they all have 4K requirements and almost everything they acquire has got to be 4K.”

Producers currently filming in 4K, such as 44 Blue Productions’ Rasha Drachkovitch, can now “deliver down” on the differing avenues of distribution, like the current constrained broadcast situation in which creators are limited to infrastructure and a certain amount of bandwidth. In addition, shooting in the higher resolution allows for the flexibility of the original edit to be maintained and monetized later on when selling to an OTT-type platform.

“A big national cable network asked us to do a feasibility study in shooting an existing series for them in 4K…We found out that the series was only going to be a 12% increase, which we thought was very manageable,” Drachovitch explained, adding that the prodco has sold a doc to HBO in 4K where it will deliver two masters: a UHD format intended for broadcast, and a second that will “be put on the shelf.”

In the film projection industry, Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI; 4096 x 2160) is the leading 4K standard. In the television marketplace, however, 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) is the norm.

In attempting to acquire UHD content for Discovery, the U.S. network has seen a handful of 4K budgets increased by 12% but others have surpassed that mark partly due to Discovery’s insistence on shooting 60 frames per second, said attendance member Sarah Hume, VP of production management at Discovery Communications.

More importantly, because the content requires three or four cameras shooting simultaneously, storage issues have been so overwhelming that Discovery can’t afford to shoot in 4K with the genres of shows they’re currently creating.

“If you’re shooting raw and it’s a multi-cam long-form program, you can expect it to be way more than 30% [of an increase in cost], it’s going to be close to double, but shooting encoded is really where things can be manageable,” said Sony’s DesRoches, noting that although shooting encoded provides less flexibility than raw, it requires a fraction of the data rate.

“We’ve done a lot of work on that and I think a lot of people use [storage issues] as an excuse,” added Rian Bester, broadcast operations advisor at TV Entertainment Reality Network (TERN). “We’ve really invested in a lot of time to develop workflows to optimize the storage. We do conversions on site as we shoot to transfer into different mediums and then back when we go to post in our play-out.”

TERN’s UHD channel, Insight, launched during October’s MIPCOM market in Cannes with a UHD satellite channel creating more than 200 hours in the fact-ent and reality spaces. The first UHD channel in its genre, Insight reaches the whole of Europe, Russia and Asia, and will touch down in the U.S. in the next quarter.

Blue Ant Media senior VP of international Solange Attwood, meanwhile, stated that the Canadian producer-distributor has been commissioning more than 200 hours of pure natural history content annual and has seen a high demand from the Japanese marketplace, which has had linear UHD channels for some time.

“They’re very well versed with this technology and very hungry for this type of content,” she said. “For us in those niche content categories, that’s really where we’re seeing the demand now. If you are out there producing in very specific content categories, there’s certainly justification to be spending the money to produce in 4K.”

“Extreme sports are good because they don’t necessarily need to be live, and live is challenging,” explained Michael Bergeron, business development manager for systems and networking at camera manufacturer Panasonic.

The opportunity is there, Attwood added, for creators currently developing content in 4K and UHD resolution in the areas of extreme sports and natural history, first and foremost, followed by demand in the genres of feature film, fact-ent, food and travel.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.