Cable Needs To Tout Its Best HD Offers: Panel

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Orlando – A day after DirecTV and Verizon announced significant expansions of their HDTV lineups, independent cable operators were told they need to be savvier about how they market HD to consumers, stressing that they offer the same core HD channels as their satellite and telco rivals.

“The important programming, the things that get the highest rated, those are the channels that you’re carrying [in HD],” said Matt Stump, vice president for One Touch Intelligence, a company that does competitive analysis.

Stump spoke Tuesday during a competitive update at The Independent Show here, addressing the group just a day after DirecTV and Verizon unveiled their plans to bolster their already-robust HDTV rosters.

He pointed out that while DirecTV will now have more than 100 HD networks, that “tonnage” includes many premium-service multiplexes and nearly two dozen regional sports networks, not just standalone national HD networks.

“There is again a sizable gap in the number of channels that these carriers are carrying versus cable (50 to 60 HD channels),” Stump told cable operators.

 “Some of that gap is premium multiplex networks, some of that gap is RSNs, where DirecTV and Dish carry 20 to 25, 28 RSNs,” he said. “Cable companies only need one or two [RSNs] for a particular marketplace, so there’s some fudge in those [satellite’s HDTV] numbers. All the same, that tops their [satellite’s] marketing messages and that’s the battle that you’re up against.” 

Cable operators need to stress that even though they don’t offer as many HD networks as DirecTV and Dish Network, they still carry the most popular programming and networks in HDTV, according to Stump.

“It does go back to telling the message and pounding it out,” he said. “Remind people, “We carry your local RSN. We carry Weeds or Entourage or whatever shows are striking a cord in your marketplace. And just remind them that where your viewing goes, where your eyeballs go, we are there…We don’t have the periphery, that’s how you get to 100 channels, but we’ve got the core [in HD].”

During his presentation, Stump cited the recent HD expansion news from DirecTV and Verizon. On Monday, DirecTV said it was expanding its HDTV lineup to 130 HD channels, and that it was bringing local HD service to 44 new markets, meaning it would offer local-to-local in 121 cities by year’s end.

And on the telco front, on Monday Verizon said that its FiOS service would have 100 HD channels for its rollout in the New York metro market.

Stump also noted that on Monday Cablevision Systems Corp. said it was adding 15 HD services, bringing its HD portfolio to 60 networks.

He noted that while cable companies like to market their HDTV “choices” and HD content offered via video on demand, consumers still seem more impressed with the idea of HD channels.

“The channel moniker still resonates with consumers, and it’s going to be an advantage that the DBS companies have in marketing,” Stump said.

According to Stump, there are 17 million HD cable customers, 4 million direct-broadcast satellite HD customers, and 600,000 telco HD customers.

As part of his presentation, Stump outlined Dish Network’s possible plan to break out and offer several HD-only programming tiers starting Aug. 1. For example, Turbo HD Bronze would include 25 HD networks for $24.99, priced at $29.99 with local HD channels included.

Asked about Liberty Media chairman John Malone’s plans for his latest investment, DirecTV, Stump said, “Malone looks for company assets that can grow over time and grow in value and give him leverage...He likes the DBS service. He likes to operate things that are really cool and provide a return and provide him chips on the table.”

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