Annual reckless, feckless and fearless forecast regarding the future of the satellite television industry by Mike Antonovich

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first published in SatMagazine’s annual 2014 YEAR IN REVIEW issue

As the frost has left the pumpkins and finds its way onto my windshield (there must be a better ice scraper than my AmEx card), ‘tis the season for my annual reckless, feckless and fearless forecast regarding the future of our satellite television industry.

However, first, a recap on what I guessed right and wrong about the 2014 TV business.Last year, this SWAG’er-In-Chief (SIC) placed a bet that the traditional broadcast/programmers would be sitting on the fence in 2014 (which turns out to be true), while I expected to see major movement from the non-linear OTT players such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon (well… so far, not true, but the blockbuster announcement of HBO and CBS creating their own OTT plays does presage major changes in the distribution landscape). The TV display manufacturers have certainly done their part, with UHDTV setsnow widely available in every big box shopping outlet for fantastic prices. However, we all still seem to be content-starved—what’s going on?

Not everybody took 2014 year off—ATEME and some of the other video compression experts in this business have been quite busy behind the scenes trying to perfect the UHDTV “virtuous ecosystem.” The global television transmission chain is a highly complex neural network, and, with a lot of extremely hard work from many dedicated engineers all over the planet, preceded the ability for consumers to enjoy UHDTV in all of the technology’s living room splendor.

Last year, we talked about some gaps in the standards, namely around single wire interfaces to bring raw UHDTV in and compressed UHDTV out. Done. Check.

Next, the technical geniuses have to make certain the industry coalesces around best practices and optimizes the performance of the all important (yet, relatively stupid) decoder chipsets that populate every TV, Cable and Satellite Set Top Box (STB) as well as every phone, phablet, tablet. Well… we’re getting there. Great progress has been made, and ATEME has provided a great deal of expertise to display and chipset guys and gals and software decoder folk to make all their stuff work and be as fully interoperable to the H.265 standards as possible.

A small apology to the chipset guys… calling chips “stupid” is like calling somebody’s baby ugly. But, babies do get older and smarter. Chips just get older. Only mass volume produced chipsets can truly fuel universal, ubiquitous deployment of UHDTV. So, isn’t that chipset the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen?

The real smarts are in the complex encoder algorithms that eliminate redundant information (similar to every third word I utter) and translate complex picture changes into a language that allows the decoder chipsets to “paint” the picture screen dot by dot, pixel by pixel, in the most faithful and transparent means possible. This is as complicated as rocket science, only without the massive explosions and all that hydrazine punching holes in the Earth’s ozone layer…

What progress have we seen? Lots, actually. For the last year, ATEME has supported the 24/7 UHDTV satellite channel established by Eutelsat. We’re also providing the encoding for the UMAX 24/7 UHDTV terrestrial channel in Korea.

Some of you might also have seen the images from the Roland Garros tennis tournament or the Red Bull satellite demo at IBC2014—this UHDTV stuff works. While most of this content is converted from file and essentially played out like a video jukebox (in fact, this is the way most linear television services program everything save for live content). With file content, you can take the time to engage in multiple encode passes, which makes the video really, really good.

However, today’s addressable audience remains largely untapped with those brand spanking new UHDTV’s with built-in UHDTV/HEVC decoder chipsets. These, as I write, are still less than 5 percent of all the new TV sets on sale today, never mind the hundreds of millions of TV sets already owned. Hang on, for relief is en route.

You will see millions upon millions of STBs start to pour out of Asian factories early in 2015. They will soon allow for commercial program channel launches of UHDTV content. Satellite channel bandwidth for HEVC on the industry’s prime “cable birds” and DTH platforms will still be hard to come by, but for those of us who witnessed the launch of HDTV a generation ago… it’s the same script.

Just like how the smart folks at the old PanAmSat “borrowed” the “neighborhood” moniker from Hughes Galaxy (a tip of the cap to Eddy Hartenstein) to create the “HD Neighborhood” on a well situated (but largely empty) Galaxy 13 satellite, it won’t be long before somebody at Intelsat or SES jumps the starting gun and promotes the new “UHDTV Neighborhood.” Nothing changes but the names. For the DTH platforms, it generally takes a new satellite launch with available capacity at an existing orbital location to start the party. Call me Nostradamus, but I’d be looking at the upcoming launch manifests to figure out where that first DTH UHDTV “neighborhood” will reveal first.

Where are the sports guys? Well, they haven’t all been asleep at the wheel, either. Some industry stalwarts such as the European Broadcast Union have led the charge, transmitting three of the final FIFA World Cup matches in UHDTV over multiple satellites. ATEME supported this event, as well. The broadcast sports infrastructure still isn’t quite complete, so our usual industry leaders have been laggards of late, and probably will be for another season.

In closing, here is the view from the trenches, or from behind the satellite benches—the holiday season will see big promo launches of UHDTV television sets, with at least enough compelling Hollywood content (on internal or external memory) to hold you through New Years Day.

First quarter 2015 will see some online launch of mainstream non-linear movies and episodic TV to give those early UHDTVadopters something else to watch. The sports guys will continue to chase their tails like three-legged dogs until at least NAB.

Now for the disclaimer: The people in the know aren’t talking. If I actually did know anything (hey… it could happen…), I probably couldn’t tell you under NDA. Let’s assume I’m wrong and you get to say, “told you so!” And the next time, you buy me the beer (although a single malt Scotch would also hold my attention.)

I wish you all a safe, happy and festive holiday season—one of the elements I truly love about this business is the singular constant…. Change!

By Mike Antonovich, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Americas—Senior Contributor to SatNews Publishers

if you’re interested by insights from other contributors please follow the link on SatMagazine website:

Editor’s note: This article was submitted to SatMagazine prior to the recent DirecTV news of their OTT launch of 4K movies and 4K capacity on their next satellite… seems as though Mike’s reputation for boldly guessing the obvious remains intact… amazing.