Comcast Corp's Eastern cable division plans to add a new high-definition television channel — PBS station WHYY-HD — next month for Philadelphia-area customers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
Comcast launched its HDTV service in Philadelphia last November with programming from ABC, NBC, Home Box Office and Showtime Networks Inc. The HD service is available to 1.3 million of the system's 1.8 million customers, and should be available throughout the area by year's end, cable unit Eastern division president Michael Doyle said last week.
About 8,000 local customers receive HD signals via Comcast, he added.
WHYY launched its HD feed in May, 2000. Its HD fare includes local original programming, including The Philadelphia Orchestra's 100th Birthday Gala, plus episodes of PBS's Nova
series. The station will offer eight hours of digital and HDTV programming each night from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., and will simulcast its main feed in digital during the remaining hours.
Adding content to the HD lineup is important for Comcast, said Doyle.
"It gives us a genre in high-definition that's much different from what's available on HBO and Showtime," he noted. "I think it will bring new viewers to HDTV."
The HD carriage deal also benefits WHYY, said spokesman Arthur Ellis.
"Comcast is the dominant cable provider for the area, so it was important," he said. "It's more convenient for people to get the signal through cable than to put up an antenna and get it over the air."
More viewers to WHYY-HD could also translate into more viewer membership donations for the public television station, Ellis said.
Direct-broadcast satellite competitors DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. are unlikely to have the bandwidth in the foreseeable future to carry HD feeds from individual broadcast markets.
Local Comcast digital-cable customers can rent an HDTV decoder for $10.95 per month, or purchase the sidecar decoder outright for about $300, the company said.
Because the sidecars are in tight supply, Comcast has not yet begun to aggressively market HD. Promotions are likely to heat up once the MSO gets new integrated digital receivers with HD decoders later this year.
Comcast also expects to announce joint HD marketing partnerships with at least one major consumer electronics retailer by the end of this quarter, an MSO spokesman said.