MTVNI Launches Int’l HD Channel

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MTV Networks International on Sept. 15 launched a high-definition channel, MTV Networks High Definition (MTVNHD), offering a hybrid of music programming and content for kids.

The channel draws on over 300 hours of HD content produced over the last two years, said MTVNI president Robert Bakish. It bowed initially in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Poland and Sweden, and is expected to expand to the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela by the end of 2008.

The Viacom-owned programmer began preparing for the launch of an HD channel early last year, said Bakish. As it explored the idea, executives concluded that the company’s usual strategy of launching localized, country-specific channels might prove difficult, given that HDTV sets are generally less prevalent in international markets and that international broadcasters and operators have been slower to offer HD content.

“In order to make the product available around the world as quickly as possible, we decided to band together [with our networks] and create one service for both music and kids,” Bakish notes. The launch of a single service, MTVNHD, will then “set us on a path to [ultimately] create multiple services by brand and country,” he adds.

Beyond pooling programming resources, the new net also draws on the company’s international production centers and MTV Networks’ overall push to expand HD production.

Last year, MTVNI restructured its global operators, reducing its presence in London and Miami, while expanding operations in Warsaw, Poland, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a result, the service is being played out from the Warsaw facility and is being run by MTVNI’s Emerging Markets Group.

The new organization will draw on production from units in Buenos Aires; Milan, Italy; and the U.K., as well as from the Palladia channel in the U.S. Music service MHD was rebranded as Palladia on Sept. 1.

Many international markets have been slow to embrace HD. But the channel’s plans to rapidly expand its distribution by year-end highlights strong operator interest in the technology, noted Bakish.

“There isn’t a lot of HD product out there,” he said. “That makes it sort of a chicken-and-egg problem, but we think it will develop quickly,” as content becomes is available.