Cable Operators

Premium Nets Add HD

6/15/2007 8:05 PM Eastern

Premium networks are expanding their HDTV offerings, with Home Box Office making all 26 feeds of its HBO and Cinemax multiplex channels available in high-definition and Showtime Networks planning to increase its HD roster, officials said last week.

HBO’s super-charged HD rollout will begin later this year, with completion expected by the end of second quarter 2008, HBO chairman and CEO Bill Nelson said in his first big announcement since his promotion.

Showtime will add one new HD feed in the coming months, making four, and will put “substantially more up in the foreseeable future,” according to Tom Christie, executive vice president of affiliate sales for Showtime Networks.

AFFILIATES ABOARD

HBO was the first national cable network to offer HD feeds, with HBO HDTV launching in 1999 and Cinemax HDTV in 2003. It has four HD feeds now.

DirecTV last week said it would launch a raft of the new HBO HD services, and HBO sister company Time Warner Cable also expressed an interest in the linear HBO HD channels and especially in on-demand versions.

“We expect to carry the channels in HD, but we’re expectant that HBO will offer a very robust HD VOD package as well,” Time Warner spokesman Mark Harrad said. “I’m sure in one sense or another that we’ll have HBO in high-def as we do now on their linear channel.”

According to HBO research, its subscribers generally tend to be early adopters of new technologies, such as digital boxes, DVRs and flat-screen HDTV sets, said HBO co-president Eric Kessler, who heads up marketing and worldwide distribution. HBO also says 35% of its subscribers have HDTV, compared with 23% for the general population.

“What we’re seeing in the data there is actually accelerating growth rates in the adoption of high-def,” Kessler said. “You can see it as a consumer. … Our sense is we are about to hit the tipping point here, and we want to be ahead of that curve because, frankly, leading the way in terms of new technology has always been in HBO’s DNA.”

Multiplexes are becoming more important to HBO, according to Kessler, hence the need to offer them in HD. “We do a substantial part of our ratings there [multiplexes], and people are looking to have high-def on all channels.”

DirecTV was one of the first distributors to announce plans to begin launching the HDTV feeds of 11 HBO and Cinemax channel nationally in September as part of its HDTV expansion, officials at the satellite provider said.

DirecTV plans to debut up to 100 national HD channels by the end of the year following the launch it its D10 satellite next month.

In addition to the HBO (East) HD channel it currently offers, DirecTV will launch in full-time HD: HBO West; HBO2 West; HBO2 East; HBO Family East; HBO Family West; HBO Latino; HBO Signature; Cinemax East; Cinemax West; and MoreMax.

The channels will begin rolling out in September and continue to launch through the rest of the year. DirecTV currently carries each of these channels in standard-definition.

HBO is approaching other distributors about carrying its new HD feeds, according to Kessler. “We’re talking to all of our affiliates about incorporating more HD feeds into their plans,” he said.

SUBSCRIPTION DEMAND

Christie said operators have expressed an interest in HD subscription VOD.

“A lot of our customers are kind of channel-constrained right now,” he said. “So the opportunity to get a lot of these screens up is limited right now to essentially the DBS guys. But it’s a major component of our strategy going forward.”

HBO’s all-digital multiplex packages showcase HBO’s original series, films and documentaries and Cinemax’s extensive movie library and blockbuster hits include.

The full roster of HBO-branded channels and feeds are: HBO (East/West); HBO2 (East/West); HBO Signature (East/West); HBO Comedy (East/West); HBO Family (East/West); HBO Zone (East/West); and HBO Latino (East/West).

The Cinemax-branded channels and feeds are: Cinemax (East/West); MoreMAX (East/West); ActionMAX (East/West); ThrillerMAX (East/West); WMAX (East); @MAX (East); 5StarMAX (East) and OuterMAX (East).

September