3net Eyes 4K Expansion in 2014

Sony/Imax/Discovery J.V. 'Prepared' To Produce Up To 80 Hours Of Ultra HD Fare Next Year, CEO Says

Consumer adoption of 4K-ready TVs are at the nascent stage, but 3net has enough confidence in the budding Ultra HD market that it expects to vastly expand its 4K output in 2014, according to Tom Cosgrove, the president and CEO of the Sony, Imax, and Discovery Communications joint venture.

“We’re prepared to do upwards of 80 hours of content next year,” likely specials and series in the non-fiction category, Cosgrove (pictured above) said in a recent interview. He acknowledged that the final total is a “bit of an open-ended question” and will be determined by how quickly the 4K market moves throughout the year. But 80 hours “is probably the upper end of what we’ll be looking to do in 2014,” he said.

3net’s first 4K project is Space:Unraveling the Universe, a three part-series that is just wrapping production (see image at left). Among other titles in the works for 2014 include a series called Flight 4K.

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3net has aligned its production strategy around what it calls “Total D,” meaning it shoots everything in 3D/4K, but can convert those shows into other formats, including 2D, traditional high-definition, as well as standard-definition.

Cosgrove said 3net is already marketing the Space series to potential distributors, and will offer an “institutional theatrical version” that could be used by museums.

“We’re seeing a real interest for it across the board,” Cosgrove said of the Space series. “We’ve been talking to everyone who’s out there looking at 4K.”

That, of course, includes 3net’s current roster of pay-TV and over-the-top video service providers. In the U.S, that list includes Comcast, Service Electric Cablevision, Google Fiber,  DirecTV and Netflix. Among them, Netflix has already confirmed that it plans to roll out a 4K offering sometime in 2014, and that the initial 4K streaming catalog will include season 2 of original hit series House of Cards. Cosgrove wouldn’t say if Netflix has already agreed to distribute 3net’s 4K offerings.

Cosgrove said 3net decided to expand its 4K plans due to recent, increasing interest in the format as prices on 4K sets continue to drop.  Six months ago, those talks tended to center around initial testing, “but it’s now started to become a more serious conversation,” he said. “It’s across the board on what that something is; it just depends on the market and who we’re talking to.”

Looking ahead, Cosgrove expects over-the-top video to serve as 4K’s content linchpin, in reference to examples that include Netflix’s 4K plans as well as Video Unlimited 4K, the proprietary video download service launched by Sony in the fall of 2013.

“Then, very quickly, we’ll see the satellite and cable guys come in as well,” predicted Cosgrove, who is scheduled to join a 4K panel at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show that will also feature Sony Pictures Technologies President Chris Cookson and Comcast EVP and CTO Tony Werner.

No U.S. pay-TV provider has yet to announce any 4K launch plans. Last month, DirecTV president and CEO Mike White told investors on the company’s third quarter earnings call that his company will be ready to go when the 4K market takes off, but admitted that it will involve a “very complex rollout.” But he said it would likely be 2015 or 2016 before he expects to see “any kind of material impact” from 4K.

Comcast, meanwhile, demonstrated its 4K technical readiness at last year’s Cable Show in Washington, D.C. CableLabs, the industry’s R&D arm, has several 4K projects underway.