Cable, Broadcast Spar Over HDTV


Broadcasters and cable are entangled in two ongoing
disputes over digital.

The broadcasters are asking that cable not only set aside
capacity for all of their digital channels -- as well as for the current analog channels
-- but also that cable pass the digital channels through in the same quality picture
format that they are broadcast in.

The over-the-air networks have chosen different formats for
their initial digital feeds. ABC, for example, is using the 720p (progressive) scanning
format for its Sunday-night movies in high-definition. CBS, however, has chosen 1080i
(interlace) for its first HDTV programming, including National Football League games and
episodes of the drama Chicago Hope.

Cable programmers Home Box Office and Madison Square Garden
Network have also committed to using 1080i.

Some MSOs -- most notably Tele-Communications Inc. -- would
prefer to transmit only progressive formats, including 720p and standard-definition 480p,
because they don't require as much bandwidth as a full 1080i signal.

"The debate continues," a TCI spokeswoman said
last week, adding that the MSO is still talking with broadcasters about the possibility of
carrying their signals in initial test markets as early as the end of this year.

If required to carry bandwidth-hungry HDTV signals, many
cable systems -- especially those in nonrebuilt areas -- could be forced to abandon some
of the more popular cable channels that they now carry.

The government has not yet handed down its decision on
digital must-carry. Some operators in top markets are in discussions with local
broadcasters over voluntary carriage.

Discovery Networks U.S. doesn't plan to dictate
scanning formats to cable operators that take its HDTV programming, but it would convert
the programming to a format that an operator could use, said Charles Humbard,
Discovery's vice president and general manager of digital networks and advanced

Today, the programmer is placing its Discovery HDTV brand
before consumers through retail demonstrations such as those provided by DirecTv
Inc.'s HDTV dealer feed. Although Discovery had talked about launching a
high-definition channel of its own in 1999, Humbard said it no longer plans to do so,
"unless a revenue opportunity exposes itself."

In the meantime, Discovery is making sure that all current
and future productions are captured in a form that allows them to be delivered in HDTV.

-- Monica Hogan