Why Isn’t the Super Bowl In 4K?


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.

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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.

We’ll see.

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— Phillip Swann

11 comments on “Why Isn’t the Super Bowl In 4K?”

  1. So your are basically saying the stations are saying screw the people that have 4K tv’s because not enough people have them. Well don’t you think maybe more people would get them if their was more content available from the broadcast stations.

    1. Agree with everything you’ve said. Well written, nice tone, great work. Phillip Swann is pretty much the network apologist and his reply is simply an attempt to placate. It is 2019 and, as you point out, not every camera needs to be 4K. If CBS can produce the Masters in 4K (for DirectTV) certainly they have enough hardware for the Super Bowl.

      I live in Canada and we have multiple 4K national broadcast channels available, though generally they’re without anything to show. A whole ‘nother issue.

  2. I think CBS made a big mistake here. They have been pushing their All Access streaming service for awhile and from what i understand it’s become a failure with recent subscriber growth plummeting.

    CBS should have used this Superbowl to kickoff 4k online sports streaming on all access. They could still offer the normal broadcast for free online but the 4k broadcast would could have been offered as part of a minimum 1 month all access subscription.

    To me, this would have severely limited the number of people streaming in 4k, while also boosting all access. While it’s possible that network slowdowns or buffering could lead to complaints. i wonder if the blame could simply be redirected by a small on screen message saying something like “the the quality has been reduced to due to insufficient download speed, please contact your internet service provider”

    As for the broadcast, there are really only a handful of cameras that would need to have 4k quality. The most important of course being the standard “formation” sideline shot that we see every play. I believe that other angles in a lesser quality would be forgiven much the same as they were when 1080p games were first broadcast or even in current broadcasts where things like the endzone pilon cameras and field goal post cameras are often in lesser quality.

    While the current market may be small (especially when taking into account those who would know how to stream all access to a 4k TV) there’s no question that it’s the future and many other companies have already taken huge steps forward. The one thing the networks really had going for them was live sports. This has a consistent large audience and it should be where the network’s best is shown off. With amazon dipping it’s toe this year with Thursday night football, time may be limited for networks to steak their 4k claim to sports. The way things look now, i wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon or even Netflix made a bid to take over major sporting broadcasts, produce them in 4k HDR with possible extras (amazon’s x-ray) and then turn around and resell the lower quality broadcasts to the networks or maybe even direct to local stations. Like so many other large corporations before them, the failure to evolve, stay on the cutting edge and offer the consumer the products they want, will eventually lead to their downfall no matter how secure they feel their position is.

  3. You said it MIke! Failure and slow to adopt will be the downfall of these large corporations that we have seen time and again. 4K is not new. There is no reason for a company to not broadcast this game in 4K. I understand the cost, it’s tremendous, and likely unaffordable due to CBS losing millions already in the digital race. They could have hired some Youtubers and had this thing lives streamed with any number of cameras in 4K! I’m a little disappointed, but not much one can do about it now.

  4. They know people buy new TV’s just for the Super Bowl. Hell, I’m Sure Netflix would create something so that they could stream the Super Bowl in 4K. You know how many people would subscribe to a Netflix to watch the Super Bowl in 4K? And the money Netflix would give CBS or whoever they could use to purchase more 4K cameras….

    It can be done.

  5. Excuses.. If you cant handle the heat then get out of the kitchen.. They need to let someone else handle it in 4k if they cannot. Other sporting events around the world are broadcast in 4k. It is the year 2019, not 2000.

  6. Yep, If I can get a gigabit internet sub through my cable company, for sure I can get 50Mbps. Heck, the lowest plan my cable company offers is 100Mbps so that excuse is just that.

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