In Demand will liven up its HD channels, set to launch in September, by forging a deal with National Mobile Television to provide video trucks for transmission of live HDTV events.
The deal not only adds to the lineups for INHD and INHD2, but also brings the two fledgling channels closer to the programming proffered by their HDTV rival, Mark Cuban's HD Net.
In Demand plans to launch the two around-the clock HD channels in September with its MSO parents, Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable/BrightHouse Networks. It will initially offer 12 hours of programming daily — including movies, Hallmark Entertainment TV programming and animation courtesy of The Anime Network — with repeats filling out the remainder of the schedule.
Adding the live events — particularly sports — strengthens deals the programmer has already struck with The Tennis Channel and CSTV: College Sports Television, said In Demand chief operating officer Rob Jacobson. Plans are to air at least two live events weekly on the channels.
"It was always the intention to have a healthy supply of sports programming as part of the offering," he said. "And so the way it will generally work in these arrangements is the easier you make it, the easier it is for people to want to do these kinds of arrangements with you.
"So we made it easy, because what we are able to say to people now is, 'Don't worry about it — we'll take care of getting you a truck and helping you produce it, and at a cost that everybody can live with.' "
The National Mobile Television deal gives In Demand access to HD production trucks whenever it needs them. Tapping into an existing fleet is also a more economical option than building and maintaining one.
"It's going to make producing live events more cost-effective, which is going to allow us to do more of them," Jacobson said. "What we want to be able to do is we want to bring people a lot more in the way of HD programming that is compelling. And the way to do that is you have got to drive down the cost to make it cost effective, and that is what we were able to do."
Even at that, producing the live events won't be cheap. Although Jacobson declined to discuss typical event costs, he noted the expense was built into the business plans for the two channels, "so in terms of that being problematic for us, it is not."
Instead, it may be just the ante required to do business in the early days of HD content.
"We feel confident that we are going to have plenty of programming. The real challenge is because not that much is being produced in high-def right now, having it be programming that everybody wants to watch," Jacobson noted. "That's really why we looked to do a deal with NMT, because that now gives us hopefully the basis to go out and produce and aggregate more types of programming people are going to want to watch in high-def."
It also pulls the two channels into parity with rival offerings from HD Net and HD Net Movies, which are already up and running.
"As far as us versus them, I think the programming mix that we will have will be every bit as good if not better — again, because we are going to be able to take advantage of all of our relationships with pay-per-view program partners," Jacobson said."
Although pay-per-view is not yet in the game plan, the access to HD trucks for live events also may lead In Demand to consider the format for such offerings.
"The question will be, where would we broadcast it from? We just have to figure out whether there is space to do it from a satellite transponder standpoint, and how the marketing message would work to communicate that effectively to the consumer," Jacobson said. "But as long as we are at a live event producing it in high-def, if we wanted to we could transmit the pay-per-view portion of it in high-def as well."