It was about over 12 years ago that Dish Network and DirecTV dove into HD, forcing cable to jump in after them and play catch up.

In 2002, the two satellite companies started touting HD, and only when it became clear that their having more HD channels was gaining traction with consumers did cable companies add some alacrity in their drive to expand their HD packages.

It was a clever maneuver on the part of Dish and DirecTV, playing off their strengths and cable operators’ weakness. Once the satellite guys had an HD channel on their transponder, they were pretty much done upgrading all markets. To offer more channels they could loft more efficient, higher capacity satellite transponders and / or move to more efficient compression technologies. Not that it was easy or cheap, mind you, but launching satellites is a sort of fire-and-forget proposition.

To respond, any given cable operator might have had to buy more spectrum, increasing its plant to 750 MHz, or 860 MHz, or even 1 GHz (there were several reasons to do that, yes, but HD was a big consideration). MSOs had to install new equipment in multiple networks, and reallocate spectrum. Not that that was especially hard, but it was (and is) an expensive, laborious process that some smaller cable operators are still in the middle of.

Now comes Ultra HD, aka 4K. Hardly anybody in cable is viewing this as an immediate priority. Ultra HD TVs are still crazy expensive. There’s not much content. There’s not much consumer demand.

Not unlike 2002, when HDTVs were still crazy expensive, there wasn’t much content, and there was hardly any consumer demand. At the time, hardly anybody in the cable industry was viewing HD as an immediate priority – right before DirecTV and Dish started beating them over the head with it.

Now the satellite guys are sniffing around HEVC compression equipment, which everso- conveniently will allow them to squeeze an Ultra HD signal into about the same space as an HD signal. 

Should cable be worried? Google “Roy Sullivan.” It happens sometimes.