CES: No business model for UHD

Broadcasters seek revenues before upgrading to ultra high-definition programming

Government-backed broadcasters are moving fast to perfect 4K and 8K Ultra High-Definition television technology, but commercial broadcasters still lack a business model to entice them to get behind the new systems.

That schism surfaced at the Broadband Unlimited conference Monday, in a session on UHD TV.

Yoshiaki Shishikui, Head of advanced TV systems, Science/Technology Research Labs, NHK, presented details and lessons learned from an 8K TV demonstration at last year’s Summer Olympics, in London.

NHK feels 8K (which they dub “Super Hi-Vision,” or SHV) is the last stage of development for 2D television, and their version includes both 8K resolution, some 33 million pixels, and 22.2 sound.

One lesson from London, said Shishikui, is that SHV is a realistic near-future goal for broadcasters and NHK hopes to begin experimental 8K broadcasts in 2020. Meanwhile there is already an experimental low-power 4K TV station in Korea. The station is a cooperative venture among several broadcasters, with Korean Broadcasting System holding the lead license.

But Sheau Ng, VP research & development, NBC Universal, said there’s no business model for SHV or UHD TV yet.

“Therein lies the rub,” Ng said. “It’s not the technology, it’s the business model. Where is the money?

“Unlike the previous revolution of HD, we have the device manufacturers selling the device when people are still scratching their head and saying ‘What do I do?’ That’s something we’re wrestling with every day. For us to say ‘We’re going to do this,’ we need somebody to say ‘here’s the business model, here’s the number of devices in the market, here’s how we’re going to make money.'”

Several of the panelists, including Ng, said that they expect sports, especially football, to drive consumer interest in 4K and 8K televisions, and that the tech is already finding applications in sports broadcasting.

Larry Thorpe, senior fellow, professional engineering/solutions for Canon USA, said there are many drivers for these advanced TV technologies, including entertainment and military applications: “The big thing I see that differentiates from the long drive for HDTV,” said Thorpe, “is there’s a huge drive from the consumer side. When you have business at the production end and consumers showing big interest, the question is how do we distribute it to the home?”