Industry Voices: Ring—Live 4K HDR streaming is real, and it’s spectacular

(Brian Ring/Ring Digital)
Brian Ring Industry Voices

The news broke on LinkedIn just hours before Game 2 of the World Series featuring the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

‘Fox Sports is streaming 4K HDR 60FPS via their app. Check it out.’ Or something to that effect.

I’ve been writing about 4K since 2014 and purchased my prized Best-of-CES LG OLED 4K HDR TV in early 2018. I’ve been waiting to stream the World Series live in 4K High Dynamic Range at 60 frames per second ever since. No, seriously.

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Readers, I bring you good news. 4K is here. It’s real, and it’s spectacular.

Look, I understand why Mookie Betts, Walker Buehler and explosive batting are the storylines for most fans, but can’t we stop and celebrate a watershed moment in the history of television technology please?

Just take a look at the snaps in Figure 1 below.

I rigged up my iPhone XR tripod and assembled a heavily magnified collage of evidence for you.

On the left, you’ll see my YouTube TV HD stream on my LG via a Roku Ultra. (For context, I’m on the record about YouTube TV’s high stream quality. I’m very satisfied.)

On the right, you’ll see the FOX Sports 4K HDR 60FPS stream. (This is on the same TV and Roku, and required authentication with my YouTube TV subscription, which I was very happy to provide.)

Take a peek at the Rawlings patch. Or the catcher’s eyes! You can easily see the differences here. You can take my word for it that in the aggregate, these pixels of improvement netted out to a stunning, significant improvement in my viewing experience.

So, live TV streaming is finally getting its big 4K upgrade, it seems. But this cocktail of video acquisition, production, encoding and delivery techniques is complex and expensive.

Can we make money with it? (Before I give my answer, tune-in to this: Pat Crakes, a real sports TV expert, will answer this question for me tomorrow on Zoom. Pat is former senior vice president of programming, research and content strategy at Fox Sports.)

Well, one answer might be:

We’d better, because we need something to help us bridge, adjust and evolve TV’s model. Live 4K HDR is a dramatically better product and the economic surplus from that should, it seems to me, accrue to consumers and producers to support sustainable growth.

But media economics is about reach. How many households in the U.S. have 4K TV sets?

It’s not a simple number to get at, but my recent #FutureOfTV Survey gives us a clue. Based on the data shown in Figure 2 below, at least 27% of U.S. households have a 4K TV and my guess at actual household penetration is more than 40%. (This 2019 post in Media Play News cites an IHS estimate of 34% penetration in North America.)

That’s a lot of households; it’s not yet not a majority, but these are households with the best TV customers.

So why has it taken so long for a 4K 60FPS HDR stream of the World Series to arrive?

It’s no small achievement. Indeed, the investment isn’t done. This stream didn’t have dynamic ad insertion for example, and it did have added latency.

(Read up on latency, streaming’s technical debt. For the record: I measured Fox Sports 4K HDR feed at roughly 20 – 24 seconds behind my YouTube TV stream, which was roughly 10 – 12 seconds behind a DirecTV satellite feed. Strong performance for both streams.)

In any event, these expensive and complex video product upgrades have, in the past, rapidly become ‘table stakes’ for all market participants, and video business margins continue to decline.

But is that an inevitable path? Maybe this time, with 4K HDR 60fps, maybe we need to make sure it’s different this time.

After all, as I note in my figure above, my access to this super-fan experience was through the TV Network app, authenticated by a more traditional pay TV bundle. (In this case, YouTube TV, a vMVPD/DMVPD.)

And that’s the biggest lesson here, folks. As an ecosystem, we’re stronger together.

On to the next.

Brian Ring is principal analyst at Ring Digital llc, a revenue growth agency that uses consumer surveys to understand streaming video behaviors, inform client product strategies and execute go-to-market thought leadership for tech companies serving TV providers, networks, studios and broadcasters around the world. Access all of his research for free at: RingDigital.tv/FutureOfTV

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceVideo staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.

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