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Timing, money among reasons for channels getting HD treatment

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Old 04-04-2008, 02:20 PM   #1  
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Arrow Timing, money among reasons for channels getting HD treatment

Timing, money among reasons for channels getting HD treatment

Pixel for pixel, we'd take MOJO HD over TBS HD everyday of the week. Why? Because 100-percent of the content aired on the former is in gorgeous high-definition, while the vast majority of material shown on the latter is in ghastly stretch-o-vision. For those that have wondered why certain channels get HD treatment and some don't, Sound and Vision has taken an in-depth look to unearth the reasons why seemingly worthless networks such as QVC have an HD channel lined up while scores of HD junkies can't get their carrier to land SciFi HD, USA HD or dozens of other channels with worthwhile high-def programming. Needless to say, timing and money rank pretty high on the list, but other conveniences such as simulcasting and having loads of "pretty" content available helps nets "jump the line." Hit the read link for the full spill.

Sound and Vision Article:

Remember when those poor, starving contestants on Survivor finally got a serving of sustenance? Only, instead of being rewarded with a good rib eye or a yellowfin tuna roll, they get a big dollop of termite larva. Or perhaps a skinny slice of bat-wing. It's like, "Yeah, they're hungry enough to eat anything. But really, who wants this crap?"

So it's gone with the long wait for a square meal of high-definition cable channels. For years, you've been famished by your provider's lack of HD offerings. Now, slowly, the numbers are picking up. But what are you getting? One of the latest channels to go HD is . . . QVC! Seriously, do we really need to see every pore at the bottom of that Teflon pan? And look at some other semi-recent additions: TNT and TBS, which show nearly a full day's worth of stretch-o-vision: standard-def fare stealthily upconverted into a wide-screen format. These down-market ingredients degrade the savor of that fancy cable tasting menu known as the "HD tier."

Meanwhile, why is there no high-def version of the FX network, which brings us popular original programming such as Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me? Or how about the USA Network, home of Monk? With such limited space on the dial (cable and satellite providers face a tight bandwidth crunch), why waste it on the dumbed-down channels?

Like the telecom industry itself, the answer gets complicated.

Fact is, carriers are fully aware of how little actual high-def content some of these channels broadcast. And they're not playing dumb, either. Each carrier has guaranteed lots of HD to their shareholders. But in an effort to keep their promises in a timely fashion, these carriers are pushing ahead with HD right now, even though many media networks have yet to transition all programming to HD. Instead, providers are trying to strike a balance between loading up on HD channels that were early to the game (this includes many "transitioning" channels that broadcast plenty of standard-def), and being picky about what makes it on from here on out. And being picky doesn't necessarily mean green-lighting something just because it's in pure HD.

"We don't think our customers are paying us because they want to watch paint dry in HD," says Derek Harrar, Comcast senior vice president and general manager of video services. Still, Harrar knows viewers are irked by upconverted content. "We've gotten calls and blog posts about it. It's not a good outcome. But it's not unusual that's just going to happen on some channels right now." However, purely upconverted channels are unlikely to be launched, he says.

Carriers might move a channel with limited HD offerings to the top of the list if it brings tantalizing exclusives (such as sports and movies) and promises to boost the proportion of true HD material.

So just how do some of these HD-lite channels win a spot in the high-resolution zone? Here are eight tactics a fledging HD network can use to improve the odds of quick carriage:

1. Be Timely
Turner's 2007 HD launches of TBS and CNN were successful partly because TBS had rights to broadcast MLB playoffs in high-def just in time for the channel's launch. CNN HD, meanwhile, launched into an election coverage bonanza. Neither channel shows all HD all the time.

2. Broadcast Sports, Movies, and Pretty Pictures
Viewers consistently rank sports and movies in the most-wanted list of HD content. Movies almost always look good, since they're shot on film a natural high-def, wide screen format. HD Nature shows such as those on the Discovery HD Theater channel have also found a new audience.

3. Offer Brand New HD Content
All-HD networks like HDNet and Mojo that show exclusive, original programming have been around since the early days of HD and appeal to carriers because of the high percentage of true HD content. The costs associated with using the HD format at a brand new network, while still prohibitive, aren't as steep as they would be to bring HD to a legacy network with decades of archived standard-definition shows (as would be the case if TV Land decided to convert all those old film-based sitcoms to HD). Everything at pure-HD channels is new. QVC will likely benefit from this when it launches its all-HD channel since it will show a constant stream of new products to buy.

4. Spend Money
Speaking of QVCHD, carriers should also benefit financially from this new channel, since shopping networks traditionally pay carriers for placement.

5. Use HD Somehow - Even If It's Lame
Many networks want to make the move to a big, high-definition canvas, but aren't ready to fork over the fees associated with an upgrade. But that's okay, since there are ways to cheat and since carriers take interest in unusual uses of high-definition bandwidth. CNBC HD, for instance, doesn't show high-def footage, but does employ high-def graphics, tickers, and crawls (while the news network's talking heads are relegated to one corner of the screen in standard-def).

6. Offer Big Plans
Carriers aren't too put off by new HD networks that boast only a tiny percentage of true high-def content as long as the network talks convincingly and thoroughly about their plans to up the proportion in coming months even years. "That's the nature of HD programming right now it's time to convert the networks but it costs money and time," says Comcast's Harrar.

7. Simulcast
Broadcasting both HD and standard-def versions of a channel is a plus for carriers which don't have to double up on marketing costs for networks, which don't have to program 24-hours per day of two channels and for viewers who are less likely to get confused about what time a program airs.

8. Employ Muscle
The above seven ways to elbow one's channel into the HD zone all came from carriers we talked to. But there's one more tool they whip out and this one may be most important of all. Analysts note that business concerns, historical relationships, and complex negotiations determine which HD channels go on-air fastest. Carriers look for a good price per customer when negotiating with a network, and because these are the same consolidated media companies that carriers have dealt with for decades, previous agreements play into HD negotiations.

This means a carrier might be required to broadcast a mediocre HD channel as part of a bundle. One network's deal can preclude a carrier from adding a competitor's channel, and networks can threaten to yank popular channels if a carrier doesn't agree to certain terms.

Carriers and networks aren't likely to disclose negotiation tactics like these, but they're all part of the business the business of getting you crappy HD, that is.

Last edited by Lee Stewart; 04-04-2008 at 02:24 PM..
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Old 04-04-2008, 11:30 PM   #2  
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TNT is not all bad.
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Old 04-05-2008, 07:01 AM   #3  
High Definition is the definition of life.

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USA and FX do have HD versions.
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Old 04-05-2008, 07:07 AM   #4  
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If only we could all get them.
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Old 06-16-2008, 03:15 PM   #5  
How can anyone watch standard def?

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Meanwhile, why is there no high-def version of the FX network
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