Fox Plans HD Duo

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Fox Networks Group plans to launch two HD networks early next year -- an HDTV version of National Geographic Channel and Fox HD, which will draw from sporting events and popular TV series from broadcast network Fox, cable sister FX and other networks.

“Our goal is to help sell the concept of high-definition,” Fox Networks Group CEO Tony Vinciquerra said, predicting that there will be a big spike in sales of HDTV sets during the holiday season.

“We want to be positioned with our product to take advantage of that … It’s time to start putting the pedal to the metal to get this thing out,” he added.

Fox executives will seek license fees from cable and satellite distributors for the networks, which they hope will be carried on HDTV-programming tiers, Vinciquerra said.

The News Corp. unit is expected to announce the NGC HD plans Monday. NGC HD is scheduled to debut in January, timed to mark the fifth anniversary of the domestic launch of NGC.

The HD channel will be a straight simulcast of the standard-definition version of NGC, which has stepped up its production of HDTV shows to prepare for the rollout of NGC HD.

A firm launch date hasn’t been set for Fox HD. The network will run programming from several Fox venues, including its 20th Century Fox Television, producer of 24, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and TheX-Files; Fox Television Studios (Malcolm in the Middle, The Shield); and 20th Century Fox Film Corp. (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith).

Fox HD may also simulcast National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing events on FX and run programming from Speed Channel, Fuel and other Fox-owned networks.

While television rights won’t be an issue for NGC HD, since National Geographic produces most of its original programming, executives said it will be more of a challenge to line up programming for Fox HD, since some distributors may not want programming to appear on Fox HD before syndication runs.

Vinciquerra said Fox doesn’t expect to generate a big profit with either NGC HD or Fox HD. “This is not a business were putting together to help the bottom line. This is a business we’re getting into to help the digital transition,” he added.

For more on NGC HD and Fox HD, please see Steve Donohue’s story on page one of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

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