FuboTV’s Geir Magnussion Sees 4K Expanding With NCAA Hoops Tourneys Streamed in UHD

The streaming service will partner with Big Ten Network or FSI on the offering

Fans tired of high-profile sports events’ not being available in 4K will be glad to hear what FuboTV has planned. Joining with broadcast partners, the streaming service will offer Big Ten Tournament early rounds and quarterfinals and Big East Tournament early rounds and semifinals in 4K. FuboTV will carry a full slate of Championship Week and March Madness games, but only these Big Ten and Big East matches will be in 4K. FuboTV’s 4K content will be distributed by either Big Ten Network or FS1.

FuboTV has plenty of 4K experience, but it’s calling this NCAA UHD streaming a beta project. That’s because the technology is still emerging for OTT, explains FuboTV CTO Geir Magnusson. His company is still making sure it can provide a quality 4K experience for the many consumer devices available, and, because problems can crop up, this is officially labeled a beta. “Every time we do another event, we get better and better,” he says, “and our coverage increases in terms of consumer devices and their capabilities.

FuboTV’s Geir Magnusson: “I see 4K continuing to expand in terms of the coverage of the events. You see a 4K game, and you really don’t want anything else.”

“The other factor to keep in mind on kind of a technical level,” he continues, “is that, very often, the distribution streams we get from the various content providers [make it] challenging to keep that coverage across all the devices we want to. So it’s a combination of what we’re capable of doing and what we’re getting from the contribution streams from the content owners.”

FuboTV streamed UHD video for the first time with the 2018 World Cup and since then has pushed out more than 100 other 4K events, including MLB regular-season and playoff games, English Premier League soccer, and NCAA football. None of FuboTV’s competitors will be streaming the NCAA basketball games in 4K, so, for fans who want a richer image, this is the only game in town.

Fans can catch the 4K video on a variety of devices, including some Roku boxes, Fire devices, Android phones, and the Apple TV 4K. The full list of supported devices is online and recommends a broadband connection of around 25 Mbps.

The extra resolution is nice, but high dynamic range (HDR) color makes a stream look really impressive. Happily, all of FuboTV’s 4K NCAA coverage will use HDR. Both providing networks are owned or majority-owned by Fox, which uses the HLG standard for HDR.

After creating the live streams, Big Ten Network and FS1 will upload them to their central production area with an SES/MX1 satellite uplink, then use Zixi to distribute the live feeds to FuboTV. Ateme will handle encoding, creating the adaptive-bitrate streams that viewers will see, with 4K the highest rung on the encoding ladder. For FuboTV, 4K is mostly a matter of providing more bandwidth, more compute capacity, and more storage.

To determine which stream to request, the FuboTV player interrogates the hardware it’s running on about its capabilities — what codec it’s using, what color space it supports — and reports that to the server. If the system isn’t compatible with 4K, the viewer will get the HD stream.

“From our point of view,” Magnusson says, “it’s really about the distribution of where we come into contact with the streams, not the production. That’s clearly something we’re all learning about as an industry on how to distribute this for OTT.”

Issues facing OTT include 4K transport, encoding, and device compatibility. Beyond that, it’s not so different from any other stream, with issues like rights control and quality of service demanding attention.

Magnusson estimates that the percentage of FuboTV subscribers able to view 4K streams is in the high teens to low twenties. That’s not bad for a nascent technology with strict broadband and hardware requirements. Many customers know the 4K difference and have invested in the right equipment, he notes. For them, getting high-quality video is essential.

There isn’t a lot of 4K sports being streamed at the moment, but he sees that changing. For fans, the experience will feel like they’re right there in the stadium or arena, and they won’t want to stream in lower resolutions ever again.

“I see it continuing to expand in terms of the coverage of the events,” Magnusson says. “It’s really great for sports, clearly. And it really is a remarkable experience when you see it. We, of course, are running both [4K and HD], and, for our monitoring and test environments, we’re constantly looking at the two of them. Sometimes it’s hard to go back. You see a 4K game, and you really don’t want anything else.”

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