They’re calling it “the first 4K broadcast from space.” And it isn’t. That doesn’t mean it isn’t cool, but it’s not that. Let’s back up.
On April 26, to cap off the meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada, there will be a live stream of video from the International Space Station, presented in 4K. This is partially to raise awareness of 4K broadcast capabilities and let’s be honest, partially because it’s sort of a stunt.
It’s just not the first 4K broadcast from space. It’s the first 4K broadcast to originate from space and while that may seem like a small distinction, it’s rooted in some very big differences between traditional TV broadcasters and satellite television companies.
DIRECTV has been sending 4K broadcasts from its space-based satellites to homes for over a year, but even those are not the first 4K broadcasts from space. Those were probably test broadcasts. I know that at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2016, they were showing 4K satellite-based broadcasts originating in South Korea. Even those probably were not the first.
Because, what broadcasters are saying during their annual convention is, “It’s only important if we, the providers of over-the-air TV, say it’s important.” Look. I’m going to watch the thing and I think it will be cool to see the space station and the planet in 4K. But what’s being said here, not-too-subtly, is that in the eyes of broadcasters, satellite TV doesn’t matter. It’s not “real TV.” Only what they do is “real TV.”
Broadcasters and pay-TV companies are natural enemies. FCC rules allow broadcasters to charge pay-TV companies for carriage, and they do. Sometimes they charge a lot of money, to the extent that a broadcaster’s primary source of income could become these “retransmission fees.” Those fees are passed back to you, the consumer. Pay TV companies who routinely charge upwards of $100 a month for their service want to keep costs down because they just can’t raise prices very much. Broadcasters, shut out of traditional advertising revenue, want to charge pay TV companies as much as they can. Occasionally the fight gets mean, as we’ve seen when channel blackouts occur.
This latest bit of mansplaining from broadcasters, however, is far more subtle. They’re simply saying to satellite TV companies, whose very business is space-based broadcasting, “don’t worry, darling, you just sit there and enjoy your little space toys while the real men show you how it’s done.” This, despite the thousands of live streams that pass through DIRECTV’s and DISH’s satellite broadcast centers every day. Frankly, it’s a little insulting.
Of course, as I said, I’ll watch, and I hope you do to. You’ll need a computer and a 4K monitor and then just go to this link. Whether you’re a broadcaster, a satellite TV person or just someone who likes cool stuff, it’s going to be awesome.