Cablevision Adds Voom, Eyes 500 HD Channels

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Cablevision Systems said Thursday that it reached a deal with its Voom HD Networks unit to provide 15 of its HD channels to Cablevision’s iO: Interactive Optimum digital customers June 26, boosting its HD lineup to 40 channels.

The company also said that by the end of the year, Cablevision will have the capacity to carry as many as 500 HD channels over its fiber-optic network -- a clear response to direct-broadcast satellite giant DirecTV’s claims that it will soon have 150 HD channels, more than three times the capacity of most cable operators.

"We've clearly incited a rash of HD envy among the cable providers. Nonetheless, viewers don't watch capacity, they watch channels, and we have an industry-leading lineup of the best HD programming locked and loaded for broadcast to our customers beginning in September," DirecTV director of public relations Robert Mercer said in a prepared statement.

Cablevision spokesman Jim Maiella acknowledged that to deliver as many as 500 HD channels, the operator will employ switched-digital-video technology. He declined to say whether the 15 Voom channels in particular will be switched or not.

SDV delivers a channel only when requested by a subscriber in a service group. Cablevision deployed BigBand Networks' SDV gear across all of its systems in the New York metro area.

In a prepared statement, Cablevision said it reached an agreement with Voom -- part of its Rainbow Media Holdings programming unit -- to carry HD feeds such as HD News, Monsters HD (horror movies), Rush HD (adventure sports), WorldSport HD (live sports coverage from around the world), Family Room HD (family-friendly movies, series and specials), King Fu HD (martial arts) and World Cinema HD (award-winning movies from around the globe.

The Voom package will be part of Cablevision’s free HD service. According to the cable operator, it has deployed more than 1 million HD set-top boxes to customers, and it had 734,000 HD customers as of March 31 -- an 85% increase in HD customers over the previous year.

The Voom networks are already available on EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network HD offering. While Voom is being offered to other cable operators, as well, Cablevision and EchoStar are its only current customers.

This could change, Rainbow CEO Josh Sapan said in an interview.

“I think this [deal] is an indication that Voom is a sensible product for the time,” Sapan said.

Voom, the brainchild of Cablevision founder and chairman Charles Dolan, was the source of some friction between Dolan and his son, Cablevision CEO James Dolan, in 2005. After a contentious battle, the Dolans agreed to sell Voom’s satellite to EchoStar that year, scrapping its plans to launch its own separate HD satellite service and offer its programming to cable and satellite operators.

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