SVG Sit-Down: SES’s Steve Corda Talks Future of Ultra HD Distribution

Sports will continue to be a major focus for the satellite-service provider

SES continues to blaze the Ultra HD trail, with more than 30 U.S. pay-TV providers testing SES’s Ultra HD platform across their distribution networks. Several of these cable and IPTV platforms have already launched commercial UHD subscriber services this year. In addition, SES’s Ultra HD platform now features more than 10 UHD channels with more on the way.

Ahead of next week’s SVG Summit, where SES will be highlighting its Ultra HD platform in the Technology Showcase area, SVG sat down with Steve Corda, VP, business development, North America, SES Video, to discuss the latest updates in the SES Ultra HD platform, what the future holds for the platform, and how SES is looking to expand beyond traditional linear UHD distribution and into the world of OTT and VOD streaming.

SES’s Steve Corda: “Our goal is to take advantage of the different products and services that we offer. And that includes online video delivery, OTT, and VOD via satellite and TV Everywhere applications via satellite.”

What is the latest news regarding the SES Ultra HD platform?
We have quite a few MVPDs either testing or commercializing the [Ultra HD] signal, including over 30 operators throughout North America — from some of the largest down to some of the smallest. They represent over 10 million subscribers, so you can imagine what the potential impacts could be there. Today, we also have 10 UHD channels launched, with No. 11, a great country-music network, going live this week. We also continue to look into sports. We transmitted a Bellator MMA event in Ultra HD in June for iN DEMAND, which was cable’s first live pay-per-view sports event in Ultra HD, and we will show clips at the SVG Summit. We also broadcasted the Rio Olympics in Ultra HD in 2016, and we’ll have some clips of that to demo at the Summit; it will be a good chance to see some compelling live [UHD] content. We’re looking forward to some more sports content in the coming year, including some pretty significant [content partners].

As the live-streaming and OTT markets continue to grow at a rapid pace, how will SES serve these markets’ Ultra HD needs?
As we look into next year, now that we’ve got a pretty good footprint of operators, we’re looking to expand into other areas beyond just linear Ultra HD distribution. Our goal is to take advantage of a lot of the different products and services that we offer company-wide through SES and MX1. And that includes things like online video delivery, OTT, and VOD via satellite and also TV Everywhere applications via satellite. We’re looking at these sorts of products and services and looking to demonstrate them in the coming months and get the market reaction.

We think satellite has a lot to offer in this area for a couple reasons. One is satellite’s broadcast capability. Even if it’s VOD content getting delivered out to the cable systems, we could send it once and load up a number of caching servers at headends. So the cost of distribution would be quite low. In addition, whether it’s VOD or a linear TV Everywhere application, you get the high quality of satellite, which is huge compared to any type of terrestrial and internet delivery. We can create more of an end-to-end managed system through one provider as opposed to having to go through a number of different providers and, in some cases, go over unmanaged networks. We think that’s a big advantage that satellite provides.

That said, we also realize that satellite is just a very small part of the expanding video ecosystem. We need to make sure satellite works within those environments, as opposed to having satellite as a standalone. And what that means specifically is that we look at the internet-type delivery protocols and formats like ABR, HLS, and MPEG-DASH, so that we can communicate virtually with any device. And, instead of going back to the transport stream and the way that we’ve always done things in the past, how do we make the satellite essentially look like the internet and look like the IP networks as opposed to being this standalone system? That is exactly what we are working on.

There has been a lot of momentum in the industry behind 1080p HDR as the next-gen format for live sports productions. How is this impacting SES’s 4K UHD plans?
We certainly can provide that, and we would if one of our customers came to us and asked for it. But, up to this point, all programmers that we’ve been working with see the advantage of Ultra HD over [1080p]. That is mostly because the screen size is continuing to grow and people tend to get closer and closer to the screens. But having said that, we’re pretty agnostic; it’s really about what the operators want, which means ultimately what do the viewers want? Our platform can support all of that. I just haven’t seen a lot of drive toward 1080p HDR. I know we talk about it a lot, but I just don’t see the content there yet.

What will SES be showcasing at the SVG Summit, and why should attendees come by your Tech Showcase?
First off, we probably have the fastest way to implement Ultra HD available right now and [distribute it] out to the largest audience with tens of millions of potential subscribers across all of the different MVPDs. We’ve been able to stand up a channel in less than 30 days, from initial discussions to a fully programmed channel with our platform. And the fact that we’re into the cable headends already with our receivers takes out a lot of the friction that you typically get when you launch a channel. We’ve taken care of all that, and it truly is an end-to-end system. So [at the Summit], come by and get familiar with our platform and see how easy it is and how quick it is to launch.

Number two, [visit our booth] just to see the quality of the content as it’s delivered linearly through the demos we will have there. We won’t be bringing it off the satellite, but we’ll have captures that we’ve taken off the satellite so you can see the quality of the picture. I think that’s important as well.

What do the next 12 months hold for the SES Ultra HD platform?
I think we will see a few more [UHD] channels [launched]; we’re working on that now. More sports, which is definitely a big focus of ours. When we ask cable operators what type of content their subscribers want to see, it’s always sports.

And I think, more important, you’ll see quite a few more operators commercialize the services. Quite a few that we talk to are getting very close to launching. We have four operators right now that have commercialized our services and are offering them to their viewers in a package, and I expect to see that increase quite a bit. I definitely see the momentum there for more commercial offerings out to subscribers. And, while there’s still a lot of talk about a lack of Ultra HD content with Netflix, Amazon, and others, the SES Ultra HD platform offers the world’s largest 4K content source, with 10 full-time channels and growing.

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