Bravo HD Relaunches With Universal Touch

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Classical concerts from composers like Schubert will be replaced with high-definition movies like Jaws and series such as Monk, when NBC Universal relaunches Bravo HD Plus as Universal HD on Dec. 1.

The move, coming about six months after NBC acquired Vivendi Universal Entertainment for $14 billion, gives NBC an outlet for movies and TV series from the Universal library.

And with HDTV owners yearning for more content, executives expect a strong demand for the channel.

“While Jaws has aired on every network possible in the past 30 years, I’d bet you a lot of people haven’t seen Jaws in HD,” said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment.

Gaspin said last week that he was still formulating the schedule for Universal HD, but that network executives are considering premiering a new movie every Saturday and Sunday night. The network’s HD movie library includes Backdraft, Back to the Future, Billy Madison and The River Wild.

Universal HD will also run early episodes of USA Network’s Monk and NBC’s Law & Order: SVU, as well as sporting events, including U.S. Open tennis and the 2004 Summer Olympics.

But Universal HD won’t carry The West Wing, a series that headlined Bravo HD after its July 2003 launch, and stopped running in September, when those enhanced rights expired. Before it was acquired by NBC, Bravo cut a deal in 2001 to run The West Wing through 2009 for $1 million per episode.

NBC Universal Cable president David Zaslav said Universal HD will be available in about 25 million homes when it debuts on Dec. 1, including carriage on DirecTV Inc., Cablevision Systems Corp., Cox Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co., and Mediacom Communications Corp. While DirecTV will package Universal HD in its $10.95 monthly HD tier, most cable operators will offer the channel to all subscribers that lease an HDTV set-top.

Some programmers that reformat a network have run into resistance from cable operators, such as when Viacom Inc. changed TNN: The National Network to Spike TV. But Zaslav said he doesn’t expect objections from operators, since NBC Universal is improving the network with more HD content.

Mediacom senior vice president Italia Commisso Weinand said she has no problem with Bravo HD becoming Universal HD, noting that her husband is a huge Monk fan. “If they put Monk on HD, he’ll love it,” Weinand said. “I don’t have an issue with [the name change],” she added.

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