Berk Uziyel, executive director of Filmbox International Ltd, speaks to Broadband TV News about SPI’s 4K strategy
SPI International seems to have been active in 4K for quite some time. Does it date back to the low-band 4k streaming technology and live interactive 4K channel demo at last year’s MIPCOM, or was it earlier?
We have always been very responsive to new technologies. SPI launched the first HD movie channel in the CEE region – FilmBox HD and one of the first VOD services on smart TVs – FilmBox Live. Naturally, when the new technology of Ultra HD has emerged we immediately started to explore how we could take advantage of this technology and integrate it into our channel line up and VOD offer. At that time we were developing our first, live, interactive game channel Madscreenbox. Our team worked very hard and managed to complete the first demo for MIPTV last year. We introduced Madscreenbox in 4K as demo version during the SONY 4K Screenings in Cannes and we were overwhelmed with the positive response we got for this project. Madscreenbox has created the foundation of our new state of art 4K channel: FUNBOX 4K/UHD
With the streaming technology, has there been a lot of interest since from hardware companies wishing to launch your app on their devices?
One of our biggest accomplishments was the introduction of the super-efficient compression technology making Ultra HD quality streaming available to internet users with regular residential Internet connection. This technological solution has been thoroughly tested on several platforms and already approved by manufacturers of devices supporting 4K streaming over the Internet. SPI International is currently one of the few companies, which make 4k quality streaming available to any operator on any 4K supported device. In fact, all major TV manufacturers have contacted us in regard to our 4K service. We have been running demos and tests almost every week.
We are now in continuous contact and collaboration with both Smart TV manufacturers and set top box producers. As we have managed to serve the content over internet in very efficient compression now hardware manufacturers are taking advantage of it. Recently, we conducted a major content promotion with LG Electronics.
You are now planning to launch a linear channel called FunBox 4K/UHD later this year. How much content have you acquired for it so far and from whom? Will you be producing any of your own?
We are launching extended test version of FunBox 4K/UHD on June 9th during the ANGA market in Cologne, Germany. The extended demo version will be broadcast from the Hot Bird satellite in cooperation with Eutelsat. We are planning to introduce the full commercial version of the channel as early as this Q3. We have already acquired a substantial amount of 4K content from various producers but we also began to record our own native 4K coverage of sports events such as our fighting events including MMA and kickboxing galas in various cities all over Europe. We are also recording some 4K/UHD musical events in the UK. Therefore, we are purchasing 4K/UHD content from third parties but also producing some of our own content as well.
4K is clearly a priority for SPI International. What are your plans beyond 4K FunBox UHD?
We are exploring various benefits of the HEVC codec because it enables us to deliver content in higher quality with a lower bitrate. Our goal is to optimise our movie catalogue so that we can offer blu-ray quality on all the VOD titles to FilmBox Live subscribers. Recently we also started looking in to HDR technology. We are now continuously looking for ways to combine HDR and 4K/UHD together.
What, in your view, are the biggest obstacles to the rollout of 4K services? Is it just insufficient contact in the format or are there others? How can they be overcome?
The 4K format is settled for now and HEVC is becoming a trusted standard both for OTT and DTH. However, not all of the satellite providers and STB producers are fully ready for 4K streaming. It’s one of the major obstacles.
Bandwith is still a big issue for OTT delivery. Eventhough it can be streamed with a standard DSL connection, there are some countries where even such bitrate is not supported. We are working on the ‘download and play’ option for those territories.
Last but not least is the lack of content. Currently, the huge majority of the films are still shot and edited in 2K. We need to give the studios more time to produce 4K content.
How do you see SPI International’s role, especially in the 4K sector, developing over the next few years?
With our new UHD channels soon to be ready for broadcast and worldwide distribution, we will work hard to be one of the most reliable and competitive providers of 4K TV/VOD content to DTH platforms, cable operators, OTT services and Smart TVs all over the world. While producing 4K programming is a very challenging and costly activity, we feel pretty confident that we will successfully face this challenge. In the next few years we will be able to offer a great deal of our own UHD content throughout our linear channel portfolio and online VOD library.