Q. I read that the Super Bowl won’t be in 4K this year. Again. But I don’t understand. I also read an article that said CBS was using 4K cameras at the game. If they are using 4K cameras, why don’t they just do the game in 4K?! — Sloan, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Sloan, many people feel like you do. They can’t understand why CBS isn’t doing the Super Bowl in 4K when they are employing 16 4K cameras at the game. What’s the point of the 4K cameras if you’re not going to broadcast in 4K, right?
Well, as always, it’s not as simple as it seems.
First, CBS is using 115 cameras at this year’s Super Bowl. Yes, 115.
So while it may seem like 16 4K cameras is a lot, they represent less than 15 percent of the network’s coverage of the field, and surrounding areas. CBS couldn’t deliver a dedicated 4K broadcast unless they upgraded at least a large portion of the remaining cameras to 4K. And that would be very expensive. (By the way, the 4K cameras are being used to provide sharper close-ups of the action, particularly around the end zones.)
Which brings me to the second point.
CBS isn’t using all 4K cameras — and doing a separate 4K production — because the network has obviously decided it’s not worth the investment. The number of Americans who own 4K TV are still less than 25 percent, and the number who actually watch events and shows in 4K is much smaller.
There are many reasons for that, including the fact that there is relatively little programming available in 4K. The networks, such as CBS, don’t broadcast anything in 4K, and neither do the basic cable and premium channels, such as AMC, E!, Comedy Central, HBO, Showtime and Starz.. Basically, if you want to watch 4K, you have to subscribe to a streaming service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.
But let’s say CBS decided to be a pioneer this year and offer the game in 4K.
Who would distribute it?
DIRECTV and Dish are the only two major pay TV providers who air live events in 4K. Comcast doesn’t. Charter doesn’t. Verizon FiOS doesn’t. Well, you get the idea.
So if CBS spent a small fortune on a 4K production, it wouldn’t be seen by anyone other than subscribers to DIRECTV and Dish.
Now you can say that CBS could stream the game in 4K, which would make it available to everyone online. But a live 4K stream requires you to have an Internet plan with speeds at least capable of 50 Mbps. (Otherwise, the stream will be frequently interrupted by buffering and other technical snafus.)
The number of Americans who subscribe to a 50 Mbps plan or higher is still relatively small so why should CBS invest in a 4K stream only to reach a relatively small audience.
See, Sloan, there are many reasons why CBS has punted on a 4K broadcast this year. But next year could be different with Internet speeds improving, and the cost of 4K infrastructure declining.
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— Phillip Swann