Regional sports network SportsTime Ohio is slated to launch a 24 hour HD feed on April 1 and will produce all of Cleveland Indian baseball games it airs this season in HD.
“Each year we try to rollout something new that would set the network apart,” STO vice program acquisition and executive producer Pat Kilkenney said. “Last year we did all the Indian’s home games in HD and this year we decided to launch a 24/7 HD network on April 1.”
At launch, STO will air about 18 hours of programming during a typical weekday in HD, according to Kilkenney, including all the Indian games and their original studio productions.
A few programs produced by outside companies will still be in standard-def. But Kilkenney said the network is pushing third party producers to make the transition. Some, including the producers of Outdoors Ohio With D’Arcy Egan and Tee-It-Up Ohio, are already making the switch.
The move means that in 2008 STO will produce 133 Indians games and Cleveland NBC affiliate WKYC-TV will air 20.
STO will continue to also provide operators with a standard-def feed that will be down-converted from its HD feed.
Armstrong, Buckeye CableSystem, Cox Communications, GLW Broadband, Insight Communications and most Time Warner Cable systems have agreed to carry the full STO HD channel. In addition, all of the other cable and satellite providers that carried STO’s Indians games in HD in 2007 will carry all of the STO HD Indians games in 2008.
The transition to HD has been smoothed by the fact that STO is a relatively new network. “When we were planning to launch the network in 2006, we knew that HD was the wave of the future and we had a plan to be HD by February 2009,” said Kilkenney. “So everything we purchased was HD ready.”
STO production manager Steve Warren said the network gained valuable experience last year producing about 80 games in HD, including all of the away games aired by WKYC.
“We’re just adding the cable away games this year,” Warren said. “Going to HD is actually smoothing a lot of things about. The biggest headaches we had in the first two seasons were having to be prepared for SD and HD feeds.”
STO’s close relationship with Gannett-owned WKYC in Cleveland has also been “invaluable” Warren said.
WKYC built a new building about six years ago, which was fully digital, and STO decided to rent studio space and a master control in the facility for its 2006 launch, Kilkenney said.
WKYC began producing their local newscast in HD in May of 2006 and last year the station aired all of its Indians home and away games they air in HD.
Looking forward STO is now considering the possibility of producing high school championship sports games in HD, Kilkenney added.
“We are in the first year of airing all the high school state championships in Ohio,” he said. “I’m not aware of anyone who is putting in the resources to air high school games in HD and we think it would really set us apart.”
STO is owned by Fastball Productions, which is controlled by Larry Dolan, the owner and CEO of Cleveland Indians.