Cable Operators

Amping Up the Concert Genre

11/28/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Live concert performances have experienced a pretty muted existence on television in the recent past. But high-definition distributors such as HDNet, INHD and Cablevision System Corp.’s Rave direct-broadcast satellite-based HD channel are putting them back on center stage, convinced that the visual and audio clarity of their channels will help strike a positive chord with viewers and promote the technology.

John Rubey, president of AEG Communications, a pay-per-view and video-on-demand distributor, says HD concert programming is only experiencing growth at the top of the food chain, on HDTV channels, and toward the bottom, on the Internet. It’s dissipating in the middle of the chain, on traditional cable and broadcast TV, he says. To be sure, only the occasional Home Box Office and Showtime-produced concerts and a handful of pay-per-view concert events have kept the genre alive in the traditional cable world. DBS service DirecTV Inc. also offers a series of “freeview” concerts as part of its basic lineup.

Both HDNet and INHD view concert programming as an integral part of their overall lineup and are offering at least one originally produced or acquired concert a month. Rave, part of Cablevision’s all-HD DBS service Voom, offers HD concerts on a 24-hour basis.

Their strategies are capitalizing on the music industry’s move away from taping concerts in the standard-television format. With the cost of HD production falling — industry observers estimate that HD only adds about 25% in incremental costs to a traditional concert production budget — there’s more to gain long-term for studios and performers to offer HD concerts.

“If I’m a label that’s going to put a band’s [tour on] DVD, I’m thinking that I need to get as many legs as I can to sell it,” says HDNet executive producer of music and entertainment Evan Haiman. “If I [produce a concert] in HD, it’s going to look better, plus my window of opportunities increase because I can sell it in HD today and in a few years reissue it [on DVD] in HD when more HD players are available.”

Officials at HDNet, which offers a weekly Sunday-night concert featuring such bands as The Who, Incubus, the Doobie Brothers and Crash Test Dummies, say the network’s concert telecasts are the most requested and well-received shows by viewers.

“From our standpoint, what we’re looking at are concerts as a part of the myriad of our programming,” Haiman says. “It’s all about special events.”

With its rich sound and stunning visuals, concerts also provide a marketing tool for operators to help sell HD converters, according to INHD president Rob Jacobson.

“I think that HD not only is a transformational viewing experience, but it’s a terrific retention tool for the cable operator. And music really delivers on [HD’s] terrific picture quality and fabulous sound,” says Jacobson, whose two INHD networks serve about 2 million subscribers. “The combination of great product and great promotional value is a really terrific marriage.”

HD concerts also provide performers and record producers with an outlet to push related CD and DVD sales. And consumer-electronics suppliers are also getting in on the act. Jacobson notes that INHD recently inked a multi-HD concert and promotional agreement with Samsung Technologies. INHD will promote a performer’s DVD or CD across 300 Internet sites as part of the Samsung deal, which will feature artist Mary J. Blige in December.

“One of the issues of the music business is how do they find new revenue,” Jacobson says. “A concert that is being produced in high-definition will eventually be offered on DVD, so we’ll offer people a fantastic promotional platform for the sale of that DVD or a CD.”

HD concerts also provide library product for networks, which can run a title several times over the course of the band’s tour or as new CDs or DVDs are released. “Music and concerts have legs for us,” Haiman says. “We could air that really cool Incubus show this week, and we could also air it four months from now, because they’re still a hot and viable band.”

For In Demand, a concert that appears on INHD could eventually be offered in standard PPV or VOD windows, generating incremental revenue for operators.

“Our VOD product [will be] available to 15 million homes by the end of the year, and our HD product will only be in 2 million homes, so to maximize exposure we want to try to find out if there are VOD and PPV applications,” says Jacobson.

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