Brighter, Clearer, Wider
Abundant programming is available from broadcasters, cable, DBS
By Allison Romano and Ken Kerschbaumer -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/25/2004 7:00:00 PM
With each TV season, the HDTV programming grid gets longer and wider. Today, the millions of Americas with high-def sets can tune into a wealth of HD programming, from The Tonight Show to Trading Spaces, from CSI to Monday Night Football. It's all there.
According to a Broadcasting & Cable survey, more than 20 networks now offer HD programming all or most of the time.
The most popular programming comes from the broadcasters. CBS and ABC have led the way, offering the bulk of their prime time programming in HD. NBC is broadcasting dramas in HD but continues to drag its feet on sitcoms like Friends. The WB and UPN are taking their time. Broadcast reality TV remains largely standard-definition, in part because HD production is still too costly for the low-cost genre.
Cable programmers are delivering, too. The pay-cable networks offer HD versions of themselves. Now HD early adopters can get not only hit movies but also top-drawer originals like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Queer as Folk.
And sports. ESPN HD will carry 185 events in high-def this year. TNT HD, a recent addition to the lineup, is slated to debut in May with the NBA and possibly some NASCAR races. Even networks without a dedicated HD channel are making some events available in high-def. Check out USA Network's U.S. Open coverage and TNT's NBA All-Star Game this year.
The rise in HD programming coincides with the ability and willingness of broadcasting, cable and satellite to deliver it. Most TV stations have turned on their DTV stations and can broadcast HD over the air. Cable operators are rolling out HD boxes at little or no cost to subscribers. Systems serving 45 million homes—68% of all cable homes—will now provide HD service. About 500,000 have signed on. For their part, the big DBS players, DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish Network, play up their HD packages. And there's Cablevision's new HD-centric satellite TV service, Voom.
The rise of HD programming also coincides with the ability of consumers to receive it. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, manufacturers shipped 3.5 million HD sets in 2003, and that number will grow to 5 million this year and 7.2 million next year.
By any measure, HDTV is growing and growing fast. And, as the following pages attest, there is already plenty to watch.
Along with CBS, ABC has led the way on HDTV among the broadcast networks. Using the 720p format, the network airs all of its sitcoms and dramas in HD, with the major prime time gaps being reality and news programs. ABC's movies are done in HD with jaw-dropping surround sound. This year, the network once again will roll out the HD red carpet for the Oscars. The network's NBA and NHL prime time matchups also are broadcast in HD, as is Monday Night Football. Over the holidays, the network aired two NFL games and the Sugar Bowl in high-def.
What's there: Sports, sports and more sports, thanks to Monday Night Football and the NBA and NHL playoffs.
What's missing: Reality and news programs
After being acquired by NBC in December 2002, Bravo unveiled plans to create a dedicated HD feed. The biggest attraction would have been the upcoming Athens Summer Olympics, but, after toying with that idea, Bravo reversed course, citing high production costs for HD sports.
What's there:The West Wing, Cirque de Soleil.
What's missing: The 2004 Summer Olympics.
Deal/no deal: The network has carriage deals with Insight Communications in its Midwest markets; some Cox Communications markets; Mediacom; Cablevision; and GCI. Other big MSOs, like Comcast and Time Warner, and DirecTV and EchoStar Communications remain on the sidelines.
CBS technologist Joe Flaherty has been the most vocal network proponent of high-def TV for more than 20 years, leading the HDTV charge not only here in the States but around the globe. So it's no surprise that the network also took the lead in HD programming. Its prime time is consistently in high-def, with only news, reality and the occasional special event not getting the HD treatment. Movies and special events like the Grammy Awards are also available in HD. (The 2003 telecast of the Grammys may be the best example yet that the audio experience can surpass the visual.) As for sports, the network broadcasts The Masters golf tournament, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and most of the NCAA men's basketball tournament in HDTV. And this past fall, pigskin fans had a full plate of HD football, with an SEC college game each Saturday and an NFL game each Sunday. And yes, even soap fans can get their fix: The Young and the Restless is now in HDTV.
What's there:CSI and Without a Trace sparkle in HD; the Grammy telecast is a feast for the ears and eyes.
What's missing:Late Night With David Letterman has been on the drawing board for a few months now. The Ed Sullivan Theater's layout, though, continues to pose a technical challenge, leaving the late-night HD crown firmly on Leno's head.
The HD version of Cinemax rolled out in December with 80% of theatical movies in high-def.
What's there: Upcoming titles range from comedy Old School to more dramatic features Road to Perdition and White Oleander.
Deal/no deal: So far, Comast, Cablevision and Adelphia have signed on.
Comcast SportsNet HDTV
Comcast's regional sports network serving the Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore markets features HD telecasts of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards and MLB's Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles.
What's there: Home games.
What's missing: Away games.
Deal/no deal: Available to HD-enabled Comcast subscribers, who receive the service at no extra charge.
Discovery HD Theater
Discovery Networks was the first basic-cable programmer to spin off an HD channel. The programming—particularly nature shows and big events—is well suited for HD. Discovery Networks is pushing for its five big networks (Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Travel Channel and Discovery Health) to produce 20% of their new programming in high-def to feed the HD channel.
What's there: A mix of content that ranges from special events like the five-part Arctic Mission to popular series like Trading Spaces.
What's missing: Most series and documentaries.
Deal/no deal: Carried by most major cable and DBS operators except Comcast. Talks with Comcast are ongoing.
ESPN got into the high-def game last March, and the service currently offers about half its telecasts in HD, with 185 events scheduled for 2004. But one knock on the service is that the sports network's standard-definition content often gets stretched. Come spring, ESPN plans to open a new digital facility, and then studio shows, including the popular SportsCenter, will be in HD.
What's there: MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL.
What's missing: Not all games are in HD. ESPN will soon have four HD trucks, which will increase the output.
Deal/no deal: Carriage deals with Comcast Cable, EchoStar, Insight, Cox, and DirecTV. Cablevision, Charter, Time Warner and Adelphia are still sitting on the bench.
Fox is late to the HD game. It now offers widescreen standard-definitition (480p) service but will be moving up to full-blown HD (720p) this spring. In preparation, Fox is putting the finishing touches on its HDTV facility in Los Angeles. What programs? That's still to be determined, although the network is shooting summer reality series Casino in 720p, a move that could lead to the airing of network TV's first HD reality program. Fox NFL telecasts also get the widescreen treatment.
What's there: Nothing.
What's missing: Everything.
Fox Sports Net HD
Fox Sports owned-and-operated regional networks plan to produce some local NBA, NHL and MLB games for local cable systems that want it.
What's there: More than 90 games and 300 hours of programming on Time Warner Cable systems in 19 markets.
Deal/no deal: So far, only Time Warner Cable.
HBO claims to have been the first cable programmer to offer HD, launching its service in 1999. The feed includes theatricals, original movies and some of its hit dramas.
What's there: Virtually everything. Fans are looking forward to new seasons of TheSopranos and Six Feet Under and freshman drama Deadwood.
Deal/no deal: Available on most major carriers to HBO subscribers
Internet entrepreneur Mark Cuban's HDNet has been around since 2001 but is getting more traction now as cable and satellite operators roll out HD tiers. There's also an HD Movie Net with theatricals.
What's there: NHL and Major League Soccer, movies, news and reality shows. Some viewers love the channel's remastered HD versions of classic series Hogan's Heros and Charlie's Angels.
What's missing: More-current off-network sitcoms and dramas.
Deal/no deal: Distributors include Charter, Insight, Adelphia, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and EchoStar. Comcast, Cablevision and Cox are not yet on board.
Pay-per-view provider InDemand has two HD channels with movies, sports and special events. The channels also distribute HD programming for other networks, including CSTV: College Sports Television, Outdoor Channel and Tennis Channel.
What's there: College hockey, Warren Miller skiing movies, IMAX movies and the Feb. 15 NBA All-Star Game, produced by TNT.
Deal/no deal: Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and Cablevision all carry InHD. Talks are active with Adelphia, Charter and Insight.
MSG Network HDTV/FSNY HD
Regional sports net MSG offers HD telecasts of home games for the NBA's New York Knicks, the NHL's New York Rangers and MLB's New York Mets. Fox Sports NY offers home games for the NHL's New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.
What's there: New York-area basketball and hockey, along with some news and information shows.
What's missing: Away games.
Deal/no deal: Corporate parent Cablevision carries the networks, but Time Warner Cable does not.
While NBC blazed a trail with the first late-night HD program (The Tonight Show With Jay Leno), the network has been following CBS and ABC in prime time. It wasn't until the current season that its prime time lineup featured HD, but its Thursday- night sitcom lineup continues to be an HD wasteland. The network's movie presentations are a hit-and-miss affair. Leno is currently all alone in HD in late night, but the network is hard at work readying Conan O'Brien's studio for HD. NBC's lack of major sports rights has reduced the pressure and opportunities to broadcast HD sports. The network did, however, step up with HD for the 2002 Winter Olympics and is expected to do it again with the 2004 Summer Games from Athens. The downside for Olympics fans is that, once again, the HD broadcasts will be delayed a day, leaving them with a difficult choice: real-time drama or yesterday's pretty pictures. The network last week announced that it will carry NASCAR's 2004 Dayton 500 in HD.
What's there:American Dreams shines on Sunday nights; the '60s never looked so good.
What's missing:Friends, Will & Grace and Scrubs.
The league-owned NBA TV currently produces some games in HD. Commissioner David Stern has said he'd like to transition the network to full-time HD within the next year.
What's there: LeBron James.
What's missing: Michael Jordan.
NFL Network HD
The NFL's channel always planned to produce some HD content but had not expected to create a separate channel just yet. That changed when Charter Communications, the first MSO to pick up the network, asked for a dedicated HD channel sooner rather than later.
What's there: The HD service, slated to start in August, will be a simulcast of the NFL Network. Expect content from NFL Films, some preseason games and a weekly, abbreviated Game of the Week, edited down to an hour.
What's missing: Live action.
Deal/no deal: So far, just Charter.
New England Sports Net HD
New England's regional sports network started offering HD telecasts of the MLB Boston Red Sox and NHL Boston Bruins last fall, just in time for the Red Sox's playoff run.
What's there: Red Sox and Bruins home games.
What's missing: Away games.
Deal/ no deal: Comcast Cable offers the HD games, but RCN hasn't yet signed on.
The noncommercial programming service has ambitious multicast plans, with SD educational, children and arts shows set to run during the day and HD content to run at night. The plans have yet to be fully realized, but some PBS stations have already begun multicasting, mostly mixing the HD feed with an SD feed of the PBS Kids network. The majority of PBS's HD content is still something called the "HD Loop"—a continuous loop of HD content that serves as a way for retailers to demonstrate the quality of HD broadcasts. There are currently plans in the works to create a new HDTV service that will be available by the end of the year and will end the repetitiveness of the loop.
What's there:Nature and occasionally Great Performances.
What's missing:Sesame Street.
Showtime's high-definition service showcases big theatricals, original movies and hour-long dramas. Some, like The L Word and The Chris Isaak Show, are shot in HD; others, including Dead Like Me, Queer as Folk and Soul Food, are converted from film.
What's there: This month's lineup includes controversial original movie The Reagans, as well as theatricals like comedy Zoolander and thriller Vanilla Sky.
What's missing: Reality shows like Family Business and Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.
Deal/no deal: Available on Cablevision, Charter, DirecTV, EchoStar, Voom, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner, Insight Communications. There is still no Adelphia deal.
After initial resistance to HD, Starz Encore reversed course at last June's National Show. Starz has since ditched plans for a "high-res" feed to focus on HD. Starz is plotting an HD VOD service, but there are no takers yet.
What's there:Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is coming up, as well as Chicago and Bringing Down the House.
Deal/no deal: So far, offered only by Comcast, Cablevision, Voom and NCTC.
Following ESPN and Discovery Networks' lead, TNT plans to launch an HD channel in May. It will kick off with the NBA's Western Conference Finals.
What's there: NBA action, off-nets like Law & Order, original movies and perhaps NASCAR races.
What's missing: NBA All-Star Game in February. Turner is producing the event in HD but will distribute it through InHD.
Deal/no deal: No operators have signed on yet, but talks are ongoing.
UPN is the HD newbie on the block, but, like The WB, it has a couple of programs that are aimed right at the people who are most likely to own an HD set. Star Trek: Enterprise and Jake 2.0 are both currently broadcast in HD, and the UPN Friday Night Movie has also been available in HD.
What's there:Enterprise, Jake 2.0.
What's missing:Eve and the sitcom lineup.
A young Superman and the Gilmore Girls lead The WB's HD lineup, which is in its second season of offerings. The network has fewer HD-worthy events than the top four networks, but, with the help of Tribune Broadcasting, is taking its HD products seriously. Other programs available in HD include Everwood, Angel and Reba.
What's there: The HD demo is primed for Smallville and Angel.
What's missing:7th Heaven, Charmed and several of the network's other prime time shows.
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