Panel View: 'Bet the House' on HDTV


HDTV will benefit cable operators in their fight against direct-broadcast satellite, a panel of cable programmers and MSOs concluded at a Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing Rocky Mountain chapter event held at Comcast's Media Center June 25.

"HDTV provides an opportunity to build a sustainable advantage over DBS," said Jay Kreiling, senior director of product management for Comcast Corp.'s Rocky Mountain region.

Compared with DBS offerings, cable HDTV is easier to install, includes local broadcast stations and doesn't require an equipment purchase, Kreiling said.

HDTV also offers the opportunity for cable to gain some mindshare from DBS in the retail space.

And when HDTV is partnered with video-on-demand and digital video recording, it gives MSOs new tools to reach the "end objectives" of growing subscribers and cash flow, Kreiling said.

Programmers also were bullish on HDTV.

In Demand senior vice president of technology and operations John Vartanian described the two channels his company will launch on Sept. 15. Both channels are 24 by 7 linear HDTV networks.

The first is a general entertainment network with movies, sports and entertainment programs. In Demand is offering blocks of time on that channel to basic networks to experiment with HDTV, he said.

Hallmark Channel is the first to take In Demand up on the offer. It will produce a branded block of content.

The second channel will be a time-shifted version of the first, Vartanian said, but MSOs will have the opportunity to pre-empt the channel in prime time to offer local sports in HD. For instance, Fox Sports Net has announced a number of its regional networks will start carrying local sports events in HDTV this fall.

Next year, In Demand plans to launch a third HDTV channel, filled with movies from the major motion picture studios and independent producers.

Executives from Discovery Networks U.S. and ESPN also were bullish on HDTV.

"The train has left the station," said ESPN vice president of strategic planning and business development Bryan Burns. An updated Consumer Electronics Association projection estimates 4 million HDTV sets will be sold in the U.S. in 2003, and 30 million homes would have HDTV by year-end 2006, he said.

"Sports and movies will drive this thing," he said. "It's a revenue generator, it's not an expense item."

Discovery HD Theater senior vice president and general manager Clint Stinchcomb added: "You can bet the ranch on HDTV. The only thing that is debatable is the time frame."

Rising amounts of HDTV programming and falling TV-set prices will help consumers make the move, he added — along with "the cul de sac" effect, in which neighbors see the first HD set on the block and desire one in their homes.

"There's a lot more channels to justify an HDTV purchase by consumers," Stinchcomb said.

Operators and programmers still are wrestling with HDTV business models, though, Krieling said, and more testing is expected.

But ESPN has its own thoughts.

"We believe very strongly in an HDTV tier," Burns said.