Present and future: 4K Ultra HD state of play explored at MIPCOM

Strategic Technology Development Manager, Sony Intelligent Media Services

What’s the story with 4K Ultra HD content?

It looks as if worldwide Ultra HD TV shipments will exceed 100 million this year. What’s more, as of October 2018 there were already more than 140 Ultra HD / 4K channels or feeds available to viewers around the world – 76 of them in Europe. These were just a few of the insights presented by industry experts at the MIPCOM entertainment content market, held in Cannes recently.

That’s a tempting audience for broadcasters, programme makers and advertisers to focus on. So what’s the story with 4K Ultra HD content, distribution and marketing right now? How does High Dynamic Range (HDR) fit into the picture? And how’s our industry getting to grips with this burgeoning opportunity?

Sony at MIPCOM

Curated by established host Chris Forrester and now in its fifth year, the Sony sponsored 4K Ultra HD Theatre at MIPCOM in October once again provided a packed forum to hear the latest views of key players in the production value chain. And in Cannes we got the clear picture that 4K is more than ready for primetime. Just like High Definition more than a decade ago, 4K is following a familiar path that starts with prestige projects like drama, documentaries and sport. Then as the market grows, economies of scale see its appeal widen to mainstream acceptance.

As workflow consultant Thijs van de Kamp at OB specialist United reminded MIPCOM attendees, the fundamental benefit of producing in 4K is to give audiences a more immersive, compelling viewing experience: “We want to sell a wonderful picture to create wonderful storytelling.” This also observes that today’s savvy clients aren’t just asking for 4K. High Dynamic Range is becoming just as important when it comes to better storytelling: “Resolution is going up, but even more importantly clients are now asking for HDR. It’s not about the amount of pixels – it’s about the quality of the pixels. By adding HDR to our productions we see increasing picture quality, and it has more impact in my opinion than just adding more resolution.”

4K UHD acquisition

And what about acquisition? UHD workflow is rapidly getting quicker, easier and more flexible. As an illustration, Dan Fahy, Vice President, Commercial and Content Distribution at Viacom International Media Networks confirms that wireless camera technology has now matured to cope with 4K’s higher data rates. This allows crews to roam freely around the stage rather than being tied to static camera positions – as successfully deployed for coverage of this year’s MTV Europe Music Awards.

It’s all about what’s on screen, of course, and 4K is helping premium content creators attract the world’s most talented film-makers. That’s the view of Geoff Daniels, Global EVP, GM at National Geographic: “When someone like [Academy Award winning Cinematographer] Guillermo Navarro comes in, we want to make sure that he has all the tools, all the brushes, all the colours and the High Dynamic Range that 4K allows that really help open up that world in ways that audiences will see for the first time.”

A lot of our buyers tend to favour 4K content within the catalogue, even though they don’t have the ability to exploit it today – they want to future proof their own businesses.

Prentiss Fraser,
EVP/MD Content Distribution Fox Networks Group

Long term

So 4K is delivering big benefits today: but what can it offer in the longer term? As a commercial distributor, Julia Schulte at France TV Distribution confirms that she’s already building up a strong 4K catalogue to meet demand from broadcast channels and streaming platforms over a ten-year timeframe.
“It’s really important for us to produce our content in the very highest quality” concurs Prentiss Fraser, EVP/MD Content Distribution Fox Networks Group. “A lot of our buyers tend to favour 4K content within the catalogue, even though they don’t have the ability to exploit it today – they want to future proof their own businesses.”

Always a trailblazer, Japanese broadcaster NHK is looking to Ultra HD to bring even greater levels of detail for viewing audiences. At MIPCOM Senior Producer Mika Kanaya confirmed exciting plans for a world first – the simultaneous launch of 4K and 8K TV channels before the end of this year – with production teams currently shooting 8K content in Japan and also Europe: “It’s going to be very exciting for viewers. There’s a whole new immersive experience with this kind of Ultra High Definition content.”

Get in touch

So how are your own plans shaping up? Get in touch, or come and visit us at Sony’s European Digital Motion Picture Centre at Pinewood Studios, where you can get hands-on with Sony’s own UHD workflow solutions – and see just what 4K can do for you, today and tomorrow.

Sony Intelligent Media Services