Charter To Double HD Lineup In 2008

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Charter Communications expects to roughly double its high-definition channel lineup in 2008 from the low 20s today to more than 40 across its entire footprint, using switched digital video and other techniques, according to Doug Ike, vice president advanced video engineering and applications.

New HD channels “will be added market by market, as capacity and bandwidth permits,” Ike said. “We’ll stay competitive with our peers.”

As with the rest of the cable industry, Charter is trying to rapidly expand high-definition programming to blunt the threat posed by DirecTV – which is targeting 100 HD channels this year – and Verizon, which has a goal of delivering 150 next year.

Charter has initiated a trial phase with BigBand Networks’ switched digital video platform in the northern part of its Los Angeles system, serving areas that include Malibu, Burbank and Glendale, Calif. Ike said the deployment is expected to be fully operational in the first quarter of 2008, with SDV to come online in additional Charter markets in the next two years.

“We expect to be very aggressive in deploying switched digital video in 2008 and 2009,” he said.

Ike said the operator primarily is using SDV to free up more bandwidth for HD, along with other techniques such as rate shaping and retiring analog channels.

Today, Charter offers fewer than 25 HD channels in its various markets. In Burbank, for example, the operator carries 21 HD channels, including seven local stations and premium channels HBO, Showtime, Starz and Cinemax.

Switched digital video allows cable operators to deliver more programming in the same amount of bandwidth, by delivering linear TV channels only when requested by subscribers.

Ike said the L.A. trial will start with eight quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels for SDV. “Clearly we’ll be looking to see if that’s the optimal size,” he said. The goal is to grow the switched tier and approach a 2-to-1 oversubscription ratio, Ike said, meaning as many as 160 channels would be switched across eight QAMs. That would make available eight QAMs for new HD programming or other services.

Using switched digital video, Ike noted, “at some point, you get to infinite channel capacity” because as more programming is added the likelihood decreases that any single channel will be being watched at a given time.

Charter’s L.A. system, which serves a total of about 420,000 subscribers, uses Scientific Atlanta video headends, digital set-tops and the SARA interactive programming guide.

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