Will You Want Your MHD?

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Viacom Inc. plans to launch its first HD cable channel early next year -- an HDTV version of flagship service MTV: Music Television.

On July 25, Viacom trademarked the brand “MHD,” which it said would contain “entertainment services, namely high-definition-television programs featuring music, live action, drama, comedy, animation, news and general entertainment,” according to a filing at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

MHD is one of the names executives at MTV Networks are considering for a new HDTV channel, which would contain content from MTV and VH1, a source said Friday. The channel is tentatively scheduled to debut in early 2006, the source added.

Fox Networks Group also plans to launch two new HDTV channels early next year -- Fox HD and NGCHD, an HD simulcast of National Geographic Channel.

Viacom’s CBS network and station group were among the first broadcasters to air primetime shows and sporting events in HD. But its cable networks have been slower to roll out HDTV versions than their counterparts at The Walt Disney Co., NBC Universal and Turner Broadcasting System Inc.

Disney has launched two HDTV networks, ESPNHD and ESPN2HD, and NBC operates Universal HD (formerly Bravo HD), showing movies, series and sports programs from NBC, USA Network, Bravo, Sci Fi Channel and Universal Studios.

Turner launched TNT HD, the first HD general-entertainment channel, in May 2004.

A small but steadily growing list of HD channels are currently available to cable and satellite subscribers, including Discovery HD Theater, HD versions of Home Box Office and Showtime and original HDTV networks such as Mark Cuban’s HDNet, Rainbow Media Holdings Inc.’s Voom channels and In Demand’s INHD.

MHD will be Viacom’s first HDTV network for distribution on cable and satellite systems, and on new platforms being developed by Verizon Communications Inc. and other companies.