Why the United States is lagging behind in 4K telecasts of sporting events

  1. Fenway
    This game up in the GT thread last night and I want to explain why Canada is far ahead of the US in rolling this out.


    TV Schedule for Sportsnet 4K

    As you can see both of Canada's sports networks are doing more and more games and next month TSN will show The Masters in 4K produced by CBS and ESPN that won't be available in the US.

    The US broadcast networks seem to be following the same blueprint that they followed with HD some 15-20 years ago. The NY Rangers first started showing games in HD in 1998. HD was delayed for a couple of years when the New York City TV towers were destroyed on 9/11 and the networks were not going to do anything until HD was again available over the air in New York City. Finally, in 2009, TV stations turned off their analog transmitters forever as they switched to what is known as ATSC from the old analog NTSC.

    Many of you are aware that many sporting events are still transmitted in 720 rather than 1080 and it is mainly a bandwidth issue as ATSC allows a station to transmit several channels at once.

    The industry spent billions buying new equipment for studios and replacing TV production trucks and now they are forced to do it again as 4K processing cannot be handled with HD equipment.

    Let's look at the TV truck industry first which is the backbone of sports broadcasting.

    The industry consolidated after the HD conversion as many companies did not have the capital to compete. The largest players in the US are NEP Production based in Pittsburgh and Game Creek Video based in Hudson, NH. (Game Creek is owned by former Patriots GM Pat Sullivan)

    Here are their current fleets of TV trucks.

    NEP Group - Mobile Units/OB Vans in United States/Canada

    Game Creek Video - Trucks

    With only a couple of exceptions, these trucks can only produce games in HD. It is not a case of simply buying 4K cameras to replace HD ones but all the processing gear needs to be upgraded.

    In Canada, the main supplier of TV trucks is Dome Productions based in Toronto that currently has 3 4K trucks in its fleet. Unlike the US truck companies, Dome is owned jointly by Bell Media and Rogers who not only own TSN and Sportsnet but also cable and satellite distribution systems.

    Dome Productions’ mobile production vehicles

    In the US the truck companies scramble to make deals with NBC, CBS, FOX, Turner and of course Disney (ESPN, ABC). The US networks have resisted making the switch mainly because 4K can NOT be transmitted over the air with ATSC 1.0 - you need separate transmitters to beam 4K in ATSC 3.0.

    The big hangup is the NFL which is the main profit center of the traditional networks. and local advertising revenues for NFL games are critical to the bottom line. 5 years ago FOX traded 2 stations they owned in Memphis and Boston to Cox Broadcasting to get control of the FOX affiliate in Oakland simply because of the local revenue the 49ers produce. 2 years ago in Boston, NBC used a loophole in FCC rules to create an over the air station from scratch and dropped WHDH Channel 7 so they could keep all the local ad revenue.

    The key is the traditional broadcasters need a reliable 4K transmission plan that bypasses the cord cutters.

    Canada doesn't have this problem as even though CBC can't transmit in 4K, Rogers can simply simulcast a game on SN 4K as they control the commercials on both.

    Several US RSN's are looking to roll out 4K channels in the coming year but they need the cooperation of cable and satellite providers who are dealing with limited bandwidth issues of their own. 4K is a data hog and also had a lag issue far greater than HD. Many of us already get notifications on our phones or in Canada 'goal lights' before it shows on our TV.

    There is no easy fix for this.

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    About Author

    Have worked as a cameraman for many years traveling around the NHL.
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