News

BBCA Goes HD With Sci-Fi Stack

6/01/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

BBC America launches its high-definition simulcast channel on July 20, stacking the first week with popular science-fiction shows to grab the attention of fans and cable and satellite distributors, according to channel chief Garth Ancier.

Channel officials had hoped to launch the HD version last year, according to BBC America’s own trade advertising.

“It took some time to have the right programming mix coming down the pipe to say with a straight face that we have a great primetime high-def schedule,” the BBC Worldwide America president said.

Because standard broadcasts in the United Kingdom have been in a wide-screen, high-resolution format (called PAL) for years, it’s only in the past year. that series there have been produced in HD, Ancier said.

On the other hand, existing U.K. programs in the PAL format, when upconverted to the U.S. HD format, are significantly better looking than standard-definition digital fare converted to HD, he explained. That should help persuade affiliates that the HD channel is worth launching, he said.

“To me, it’s like Kodachrome film, the old slide film, with the bright colors,” Christopher Fetner, senior director of channel production at BBC America, said last week after showing Multichannel News an episode of car show Top Gear upconverted from PAL.

The network has been working with U.K firm Snell & Wilcox on the conversion process for the last year and “we now think we’ve cracked it enough times that we feel comfortable doing it,” Ancier said.

The July 20 launch date had to be kept confidential until now because of the British Broadcasting Corp.’s domestic competitive concerns, Ancier said.

The BBC didn’t want to say too soon when, for example, new Doctor Who and Torchwood programming was going to air in Britain and the United States for fear competitors would counter-program and the dates might have to shift. New episodes of those two shows will air the July 20 week.

“I would have loved to announced it a lot earlier and then gone to operators a lot earlier,” Ancier said.

Now, BBC America and distribution partners Discovery Communications will have about seven weeks from today (June 1) to show cable and satellite affiliates demonstration reels on Blu-ray DVDs and sign up launches.

Ancier said he’s confident there will be at least “a couple” of affiliates ready on day one.

“Sci-fi viewers tend to be very particular about their picture,” he said. “And if you do a whole week of sci-fi in high-def, I think they’ll want to see it in high-def. Is that cryptic enough?”

Starting Monday night, July 20, the channel will air five consecutive nights of top-rated sci-fi drama Torchwood. They essentially comprise a season of the show, about an elite team battling with space aliens. Collectively they’re called Torchwood: Children of Earth. At 8 p.m. the first night, the channel will air a behind-scenes special called Inside the Hub, followed by the first Children of Earth hour. Succeeding nights, the previous episode will air at 8 followed by the next Torchwood.

On Saturday night, the channel will air at 8 p.m. ET/PT. the current season ender of Primeval, a time-travel drama that finds prehistoric creatures turning up in present day England. At 9 comes a new series, Being Human, about three 20-somethings who are secretly a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost.

“Then on Sunday, we’ll have the very first Doctor Who shot in HD,” Ancier said. Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead is one of four newly created hours of the long-running drama that BBC America said last week it’s acquired from the BBC. It premieres at 8 p.m.

“So it’s a pretty cool week of stuff,” Ancier said.

HD CHANNEL DEMAND
In the March 2009 Beta Research Brand Identity Study, viewers of a network were asked whether specific brand attributes describe the network. One measured attribute was “a channel I would like to see in high definition.” Among total adult viewers, the top four basic networks described as a channel viewers would like very much to see in HD were:

SOURCE: Beta Research Corp.
ESPN 55%
Discovery Channel 54%
National Geographic Channel 53%
ESPN2 51%
BBC America ranked 23rd out of 54 networks — 37% of viewers described it as a channel they would very much like to view in HD. Others at the 37% level include TLC, USA, TNT, FX and Lifetime Movie Network.
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