Small Ops Plan for 40 to 50 HD Channel in 2008

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While many small operators have struggled with bandwidth constraints that have made it difficult to compete with the high-def offerings of DBS providers, several smaller cable operators at the Cable Show outlined plans to offer 40 to 50 linear HD channels by the end of 2008. They also are expanding their high-def VOD offerings, with some building capacity for over 1,000 hours.

The operators see the reclamation of analog channels as a key part of their efforts to find the bandwidth for additional HD content, though some are also experimenting with switched digital.

“We should be able to launch up to 50 HD channels this year with very little trouble,” said Steve Brookstein, executive vice president for operations at Bresnan Communications at the Cable Show during the panel called “Thinking Big: Smaller Market Operators and the Digital Transition.”

Bresnan, which serves about 315,000 subscribers in four states and has upgraded about 87% of its plant to 750 MHz or better, currently offers 30 to 36 HD channels in about 75% of its footprint and is in the process of reclaiming bandwidth from analog channels to expand its HD lineup to about 50 channels.

“Our philosophy is to be in front of the competition so we’re thinking not only of having 50 channels but how we can get to 100” and “to do that are looking at going all digital,” Brookstein explained.

Brookstein also noted that “HD VOD is integral to our plans to stay ahead of the competition.”

“We are adding 2,000 hours of storage primarily for HD on demand,” he said.

James Bruder, president and CEO of Harron Communications noted that they are planning to expand their current lineup of about 35 HD channels to about 45 by the end of the year.

The company, which serves 200,000 subscribers in 9 states, is also working to make 1,000 hours of HD content on demand available on their systems.

To add capacity for the new high def services, Bruder noted that they are looking at reclaiming analog bandwidth as well as switched digital, though he felt the deployment of switched digital services on Harron systems could be “12 to 18 months out.”

Mediacom Communications’ senior VP of business development, Calvin Craib noted that they are looking at all of these strategies -- reclaiming analog bandwidth, going all digital and deploying switched digital -- to expand capacity for HD and other services.

“We will have three systems using switched digital in the fall,” Craib noted.

Mediacom expects to have 40 linear HD channels by the end of the 2008.

While it doesn’t offer much HD content on demand, Craib said they are planning to expand the offering.

Midcontinent Communications, president and CEO Pat McAdaragh, noted that “by the fall of this year we will be up to 44 HD channels” and will be looking “to reclaim analog bandwidth to add more. We will reclaim five to eight channels for additional bandwidth.”

McAdaragh said, however, that they were unlikely to move to switched digital in the near term. “It may be more long term,” he said. “As far as we can see, the cost benefits for new HD channels [using switched digital] wasn’t there.”

Midcontinent currently doesn’t offer HD on demand but will add some to its VOD offering in the fall, with a focus on movies.

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