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For UltraHD Streaming, Studios Need to Forge a Desperate Alliance

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Desperate times and desperate measures are often linked together, and it appears they remain linked tightly as the consumer electronics (CE) world tries to heft 4K Ultra HD onto the consumer’s shoulders and into the national psyche. In my last Streams of Thought column, expanded on with a subsequent StreamingMedia.com article, I proposed that a mashup between the CE world and the studios needs to occur.

This “desperate alliance” of sorts must be on a scale so much bigger than UltraViolet that it will compel broadcasters to come along for the ride.

One way to do this is to invest in increased quality of experience (QoE) for the average consumer. In order to gain a higher QoE, one must guarantee quality of service (QoS), including the infamous last mile to the consumer’s doorstep. And, with the help of the CE world, that’s precisely where the studios should invest.

Right now, online delivery of premium content feels like it’s traversing less-than-premium “footpaths” alongside the information superhighway, stumbling a bit, rebuffering, and then proceeding forward. To get around the lower QoE faced by the average consumer, studios should consider investing in their own delivery pathways.

Is this investment idea radical? Certainly. Would it detract from other things? Yes, such as the studios’ current requirement to spend an inordinate amount of time and financial resources on a variety of formats at varying resolutions -- from Blu-ray to UltraViolet to WebM to Flash Player to HLS to the latest DASH specification.

Are there other technical challenges? Of course, including the challenge of the sheer amount of data for many simultaneous unicast viewing sessions. But if the studios own the last mile and co-locate their content at telecom central offices, they can store on-demand content very close to both multiplex theater and home theater owner alike.

We all know about the different concepts of sponsorship, from pre-roll to interstitials to entire microsites devoted to a single sponsor’s message. What I’m suggesting is even bigger than that: sponsor bandwidth upgrades necessary for consumers to enjoy Ultra HD via streaming.

Studios needn’t do this in every city in America, but they do need to roll it out in enough cities to showcase the potential uptick in 4K viewing. If studios can couple their vast marketing engine with the equally big marketing engine of a few key CE device manufacturers, then the resulting sales of Ultra HD devices -- with guaranteed QoS/QoE delivery infrastructure -- could generate demand for 4K content in other cities. That may, in turn, compel broadcasters to get into the over-the-air delivery game.

So, how would this benefit the CE manufacturer, besides the sale of Ultra 4K monitors? I suggest that these CE companies will also benefit from the sale of set-top boxes and streaming-equipped appliances that will need to be upgraded to meet the demands of studio-sponsored bandwidth.

From a CE perspective, the set-top box becomes a loss leader; for example, some CE companies ran promotions a few years ago that bundled a “free” DVD player with the purchase of an HDTV monitor. This time around, though, content would be readily available online for immediate viewing -- especially if studios consider day-and-date release of movies as on-demand content in both the multiplex and the consumer’s home -- rather than requiring them to go to a rental store or kiosk to rent the shiny silver-and-purple disc.

One need look no further than the rapid growth of Netflix and its streaming offerings, which have recovered nicely from the missteps of a few years ago, to see that it’s possible to deliver a subscription-based model. The Netflix revenue model alone, based on limited time premium content availability, should have the studios salivating about the possibility of a subscription to high-quality versions of anything in the vaults.

This article appears in the June/July 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine under the title "A Desperate Alliance?"

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