With the average selling price of 4K ultra high definition (UHD) TVs falling and pay-TV operators preparing to launch dedicated 4K services, consumer demand for UHD TV is greater than ever before. Ovum forecasts that 40 million 4K UHD TVs and 10 million 4K set-top boxes will be sold in 2016. Yet, as their coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro demonstrated, broadcasters remain reluctant to invest in the technology and their failure to meet the growing demand for 4K content could severely hinder further growth in sales of 4K devices.
New services and falling prices boost demand for 4K devices
According to Ovum's TV Devices Forecast, sales of 4K-compatible devices are set to increase considerably throughout 2016. While 22.4 million 4K UHD TVs were sold in 2015, sales are predicted to almost double to 40.1 million units in 2016. Furthermore, sales of 4K set-top boxes are expected to quadruple to 10 million units, up from just 2.4 million units in 2015.
This surge in sales can be attributed to the increasing affordability of 4K UHD TVs, which have shifted away from the higher end of the market toward the mainstream, as well as greater investment in 4K technology on the part of pay-TV operators. TELUS, SFR, Telkom Indonesia, Sky, and DirecTV are among those who have already launched dedicated 4K TV services, while Ovum's TV Technology Announcements Tracker found that in the first half of 2016 alone Etisalat, Canal+, Waoo!, Videotron, POST Luxembourg, Vodafone Spain, and NOS all announced their intention to launch 4K TV services in the near future. However, 4K UHD TVs and the 4K-enabled set-top boxes provided by pay-TV operators are proving to be largely redundant at present due to the fact that 4K content remains both limited and costly. On the streaming service front, access to Netflix's growing range of premium 4K content is reserved exclusively for consumers on the highest price plan, while Sony's 4K UHD streaming service ULTRA charges $30 per movie. Meanwhile, 4K content on linear television is generally confined to niche channels such as Festival 4K and NASA TV UHD, or one-off major sporting events such as UEFA Euro 2016, which was broadcast in 4K throughout France, Italy, and Portugal.
In August 2016, the Rio Olympic Games provided the perfect platform to showcase the technology and boost support for 4K broadcasting on a global scale, yet wary or disinterested broadcasters failed to capitalize on the opportunity presented to them. In the US, TV network NBC offered just 83 hours of 4K Olympics coverage, compared to the 330 hours of programming broadcast on NBCSN, or the 4,500 hours of live streaming offered via the NBC Sports App. The coverage was also broadcast on a one-day time delay, discouraging viewers from tuning in. Elsewhere, 4K coverage was restricted to public broadcasting events, online streaming, or experimental transmissions only, as was the case with the BBC.
Without access to 4K content from broadcasters and streaming services, there is every chance that consumer demand for the technology will diminish, resulting in declining sales of 4K devices. Therefore, device manufacturers, pay-TV operators, broadcasters, and OTT service providers must work in unison to create a complete 4K service if they are to sustain public interest in the technology.
TV Technology Announcements Tracker: 2Q16, TE0004-001102 (August 2016)
4K UHD Technology: Go-to-Market Strategies and Future Outlook, TE0004-001074 (April 2016)
TV Devices Forecast: Set-Top Box Sales and Installed Base, 2015–20, TE0004-001066 (February 2016)
TV Devices Forecast: Regular, Smart, Connected, and 4K UHD TV, 2015–20, TE0004-001065 (February 2016)
Holly Reid, Research Analyst, Consumer Technology and TV