The State of Mobile Video 2018

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Streaming is a part of, and not a replacement for, the traditional TV experience. “Many operators do offer a TV Everywhere solution that is available on mobile devices and web browsers, which is a perfect solution for the 10 percent of consumers that watch TV on mobile devices,” added Ferrone.

This is especially the case with 4K content streamed to the home and displayed on a TV. Some 35 percent of TVs sold globally in 2017 were 4K UHD, a total of 79 million, bringing total penetration to 8 percent according to Futuresource data. This is expected to reach a global average of 21 percent by 2021. The UHD streaming device market is also on the rise, with worldwide shipments of 19.5 million expected through 2017 and accounting for 36 percent of all media streamers sold through 2017.

Anecdotal evidence reported by Ampere suggests that achieving the full 4K environment requires no small amount of expertise on the part of the consumer, and even those with all the kit may not actually be experiencing 4K if one aspect or component is set up incorrectly.

“There are the usual claims of 4K availability via pay TV operators and OTT SVOD operators, but realistically these are marketing claims and produce a largely sub-par experience both in terms of the resolution actually received (owing again to file sizes) and volume of content,” Richard Cooper, research director, Ampere, told Streaming Media. “The whole in-home 4K experience is very dependent on having a fully compatible setup from end to end.”

Dynamic range is considered by many to matter more to the perceptual quality of an image than resolution. Even here, rollout is not fast. Just 7 percent of production companies are being asked to deliver in HDR despite HD HDR providing an increased quality of picture with just a small increase in bandwidth requirement, said Futuresource analyst Tristan Veale in the same article. “However, HDR is a more difficult consumer message to convey, and therefore monetise, than 4K resolution.”

It may require the impetus of an all-UHD/HDR FIFA World Cup, which will be produced and delivered live from Russia this summer, to kick-start enthusiasm for the format and for the necessary upgrades to internet connections into the home.

AR Needs Killer Content

There are those predicting that 2018 will be the year of augmented reality (AR), with Silicon Valley’s tech giants pushing product into the mainstream.

Facebook sees AR as a huge new communications platform, and launched its Camera Effects Platform for AR developers in February. Google has been experimenting with products like Google Glass and its Tango platform, which uses depth sensing to map environments from smartphones.

Apple’s ARKit, announced in June, means developers can create AR apps for the 700-plus million iPhone users already in the market. ARKit uses the iPhone or iPad’s camera and motion sensors to find points in the environment, then tracks them as the device moves. It can “pin” objects to one point, changing the scale and perspective. It can also locate flat surfaces, which is great for putting digital props on a floor or table.

Microsoft is also expanding the reach of its HoloLens headset with its mixed reality (MR) Windows software. This includes inputs from motion controllers and natural human inputs such as gaze, voice, and gestures.

Rather than just adding artificial elements to a real scene as with AR, or creating a completely artificial environment as with virtual reality, MR places all or parts of reality into an environment that mimics the real world in real time.

The Future Group and FremantleMedia have produced one of the first MR entertainment formats, Lost in Time, which is currently being adapted for a Middle East audience.

Aside from HoloLens, brands launching MR headsets based on MR for Windows include Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung. “We are standing at the threshold of the next revolution in computing,” wrote Alex Kipman, Technical Fellow at Microsoft, in an October 2017 blog post. “A revolution where computers empower us to expand our capabilities and transcend time, space, and devices. ... With mixed reality, our ideas move beyond the boundaries ... of screens, and beyond the boundaries of description. This is the fundamental promise of mixed reality. The barrier that exists between our physical and digital worlds will disappear.”

All that’s needed is a killer piece of content for AR or MR to go viral.

Live VR Takes a Back Seat

The high hopes the industry had of VR enjoying quick widespread adoption at the start of the year look to have been overly optimistic. As 2017 progressed, the industry adopted a more conservative viewpoint with regard to the speed of uptake.

Futuresource Consulting, in its latest “VR Quarterly Tracker,” put this down to lower-than-anticipated device sales, but also says the creative community has lagged behind in its ability to generate compelling content.

“A key issue for the industry is the lack of killer applications for VR that are essential to drive consumer adoption, and this has proved to be a major limiting factor that has impacted growth,” said Michael Boreham, the report’s co-author. “The slow rate of consumer adoption of VR hardware has also impacted on the content community, with games and video publishers being wary of funding VR productions until the installed base of hardware has reached a level where they can guarantee a healthy return on investment.”

Sports producers remain keen to tap the potential of the medium, but have largely failed to commercialise it. Perhaps that’s to be expected while the technical complexity and new editorial grammar are worked out.

That was certainly the case at Europe’s most impressive live VR production to date, when BT Sport covered the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League final from Cardiff in 4K VR using 12 rigs. While the operator will have learned a lot of lessons about live VR production and had planned to stream regular English Premier League matches in 360 degrees during the 2017–18 season, it has not produced another since.

Nokia’s sudden decision in October to exit VR and end development of the OZO camera and stitching system used by the broadcaster was also a setback. The OZO seemed to have become the go-to camera of choice for live VR, used by UEFA’s production partner Deltatre, among others, but it seems that despite slashing the initial launch price of €55,000 to €34,000, and with millions of Euros invested, Nokia still couldn’t see a way to break even.

Live VR is far from over, though. Sky Sports continued to dabble in trials of largely short-form recorded content, including some in partnership with boxer Anthony Joshua. And the Olympic Broadcasting Services will capture 50 hours of Winter Olympics action using rigs and processing from Intel in a feed bought by NBCU. The chip maker is also behind production of regular NBA games for distribution over a Turner Sports app, starting with the NBA All-Star Game February 20.

Olympic Broadcasting Services will capture 50 hours of Winter Olympics action from PyeongChang using rigs and processing from Intel. 

Live VR will return. The BBC continues to push 360° video experiences, although mostly in recorded content around drama and documentaries. BBC Earth Productions is reportedly planning to explore “haptic” (including touch with sight and hearing) VR and AR experiences.

Discovery has earmarked VR for Olympics coverage in 2020 and before that, motorsport’s Formula E (in which Discovery has a minority stake) broadcasters are plotting AR and VR innovation.

“[VR] augmentation of the live event requires a robust video delivery connection that can cope with the bandwidth requirement, ensuring minimal latency and consistency of video relay,” said Simon Moorhead, Managing Director of outside broadcast production supplier NEP UK in an interview with the author for SVG Europe. “This is where the broadcaster is at the mercy of the viewers’ data connectivity or, more specifically, the ability of the internet service provider to super-serve this new broadcast medium.

“For these reasons, I see that the broadcasters need to feel confident in the delivery platform, the potential for mass consumption by the potential available audience, and their willingness to either pay for this enhanced experience or have their experience impinged with hard-coded advertising.”

[This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of Streaming Media European Edition.]

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