Marquee sporting events are poised to drive 4K video content from outlier-status into the mainstream with Fox Sports leading the charge.
In the past week, with no fanfare, niche streaming video provider fuboTV updated an obscure support page to list upcoming live 4K sporting events. The page now shows:
NFL: Thursday Night Football (11 games simulcast on Fox)
MLB: American League Championship Series on FS1 & Fox
There’s more to come. Fox will broadcast this year’s World Series in October and the Super Bowl in February 2020. For the first time ever, expect both events to be available in 4K. (If you’re hosting a Super Bowl party, the pressure will be on to deliver the 4K experience.)
Why does 4K matter?
In short, everything on a big screen looks better and crisper at higher resolution. The 4K format delivers a boatload more pixels (the dots that make up a picture) to make that possible. Here’s a short read that covers image basics, a terrific, longer read that tells you all you need to know about 4K, and a deep cut if you’re feeling super-nerdy.
Or keep it simple and look at the chart below that shows how 4K-- also known as Ultra High Definition (UHD)-- packs in 4-times as many pixels as "regular" HD.
Chart: Pixel Counts from SD to UHD
What's in the way of 4K?
Estimates vary on 4K TV ownership, but a recent survey by Leichtman Research Group found 22% of households with incomes >$50K already had a 4K set, and that figure is expected to grow quickly as 4K set prices have fallen.
Despite all the excitement to come from high-profile sports being broadcast in 4K, some new technology adoption headaches confront the typical TV viewer.
First, finding 4K content is hard with traditional video services. Some video providers (e.g. DIRECTV) offer "special event" 4K linear channels that have revolving content, while others (e.g. Xfinity) use OnDemand tech to serve up 4K streams. Absent a "motivated" viewer, it's easy to just end up watching the regular HD feed.
Consumers must upgrade to 4K-capable set-top boxes. In the early days of HDTV, countless people connected SD boxes to their new televisions without realizing there was another step to get a better picture (not just a bigger picture.) The same is true with 4K today-- most of these TVs have "regular" HD boxes connected to them.
Thinking of streaming? Consumers still need to use 4K-capable devices or built-in smart TV apps. Navigating multiple apps, each with a unique interface, to access 4K content practically demands that viewers become certified pilots.
Finally, lack of customer education from 4K video content suppliers has, thus far, kept many consumers in the dark. Absent a 4K version of the ubiquitous "Auto-tune to HD" feature (which saves many from the mistake of watching Standard Definition channels,) linear broadcasts of 4K will need on-air reminders to encourage viewers to find the 4K feed.
Despite these barriers, the "best" viewing experience will be waiting for those patient enough to find it. With top-shelf sports content as a catalyst, expect many more TV viewers to figure out 4K in the months ahead.
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Telogical VP Insights & Client Services