Netflix: 4K Streaming Within 2 Years, 'House of Cards' 4K Encodings This Year. Can Indies Benefit?
Consumer viewing habits are changing, and companies like Netflix are at the forefront of the streaming revolution. So it comes as no surprise that they also plan to be at the bleeding edge when it comes to 4K. Netflix's Chief Product Officer, Neil Hunt, recently stated in an interview that they expect to have 4K streaming within a year or two, with their original series House of Cards (shot on the RED EPIC) eventually getting 4K encodings. While it's good news for anyone selling a 4K TV, is there a way independent filmmakers could benefit from all of this?
Here is a bit from Neil Hunt's interview with The Verge:
You don't think this push for the 4K format and ultra high-definition by the film studios and TV manufacturers is an attempt to wall out streaming services like Netflix? That's a lot of info to stream.
On the contrary. Streaming will be the best way to get the 4K picture into people's homes. That's because of the challenges involved in upgrading broadcast technologies and the fact that it isn't anticipated within the Blu-ray disc standard. Clearly we have much work to do with the compression and decode capability, but we expect to be delivering 4K within a year or two with at least some movies and then over time become an important source of 4K. 4K will likely be streamed first before it goes anywhere else. To that point, our own original House of Cards was shot in 4K. It's being mastered in full HD, but the raw footage, or a good chunk of it, was shot in 4K, and we hope to have some House of Cards 4K encodes later this year.
I know some of you will already be saying that the TVs are too expensive and you need a gigantic screen to see the benefits, or that the broadband speeds aren't up to snuff yet in U.S. These are valid points, but this transition is happening, whether any of us like it or not. We're going to get 4K screens on our computers in the next few years, and we already know at close distances, you don't need a giant screen to get the benefits -- and that particular fact is in Netflix's favor. 4K TVs might be expensive right now, but by the end of 2014, screens capable of 4K resolution will be everywhere, if only because manufacturers need something new to push to consumers once HDTV sales growth slows to a crawl (or even begins declining).
As Neil says above, compression has a way to go, but if anyone is going to figure it out, it's Netflix. Where are they going to be getting the content? Well, we know House of Cards will be in 4K at some point in the next year or two. Plenty of older films will get re-scanned in 4K, and some newer ones will as well -- and there may even be some upscaling going on with current films that originated on lower than 4K formats. There is a chance, however, that independent films could benefit from this transition (while independent is a bit of a loose term, I'm talking about those in the few million dollar range and below).
It might be a little bit of a stretch, but let's look at the situation. Finishing in 4K is still pretty expensive and time-consuming in Hollywood for a number of reasons -- like visual effects. Costs will come down, of course, but finishing an independent film in 4K with little or no visual effects is a heck of a lot easier. Netflix already has a strained relationship with Hollywood, and streaming rights are going up every time they need renewal -- will they want to pay an additional premium for 4K? We'll still see plenty of Hollywood content on the streaming service, but Netflix is making a huge push for original shows -- which could some day sustain a healthy portion of the user base. With how much they will be spending on streaming rights over the next few years, when they move to higher-resolutions, they're going to want cheaper 4K content to bulk up their library to a respectable number, and they will probably try to do it quickly to stay ahead of providers like DirecTV and Comcast.
This could be an opportunity for indies. To make people care about the 4K abilities, Netflix will need a healthy amount of content, and with more independent films already finished in 4K than Hollywood films (with plenty more to come), we could be looking at a perfect opportunity for smaller productions to beat the big guys to the punch. Independent distributors certainly don't get the deals Hollywood does, but it could be a potentially lucrative revenue stream until Hollywood catches up.
What do you think? Is there a window here where independent films could supply a healthy amount of 4K content early on in the life of Netflix 4K? Or is there absolutely no chance of this happening?