Cable Takes to High-Definition

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High-definition programming is moving into a higher gear on cable. Showtime and sports nets Comcast SportsNet and NBA TV are among programmers unveiling new plans for high-def telecasts last week.

Showtime is adding six original series—including Queer as Folk and new shows Earthlings and Dead Like Me
—and several original movies in high-def. It will also carry the Feb. 22 Mike Tyson-Clifford Etienne boxing match in HD. Showtime introduced its first HD-produced programming last year.

The growing number of high-def offerings is a bit like color television replacing black-and-white TV, says Comcast SportsNet President and CEO Jack Williams. "There was a time when just a few shows were in color and you didn't think about it. There will be a day when everything is in high definition."

Comcast SportsNet HD tips off Feb. 15 when the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers host the Carolina Hurricanes. The HD version of the network for the regional sports net—which covers Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.—has been in the works for about a year and was originally slated for a late-January debut. Comcast SportsNet decided to delay the launch a few weeks to test its operation, Williams said.

More than 200 games will be produced in HD this year. The first Washington, D.C., and Baltimore-area games will be on Feb. 17.

To produce its high-def telecasts, Comcast SportsNet has added a new 53-foot-long Sony HD mobile production facility. The truck will shuttle up and down I-95 between Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. With more than 200 games to be produced in HD this year, the coverage will comprise Philadelphia Flyers, 76ers (NBA), and Phillies (MLB), Washington Capitals (NHL) and Wizards (NBA), and Baltimore Orioles (MLB) games in the Baltimore and Washington markets. Postseason games will also be covered.

The Comcast truck was constructed at Sony's Systems Integration Center in San Jose, Calif., and contains Sony high-definition cameras and production equipment. It will be tested in Washington before heading to Philadelphia for the Flyers game.

Another sports network, the NBA's digital NBA TV channel, is also readying its first HD telecast. NBA TV plans to offer several (it can't say how many just yet) NBA games in HD this season. The first will be a Feb. 16 contest between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. EchoStar and DirecTV currently carry the NBA TV channel.

Also last week, cable pay-per-view and VOD service InDemand said it will begin offering high-definition movies in April. InDemand has negotiated HD rights with three movie distributors, HBO Enterprises, New Line Cinema and DreamWorks. It's first high-def presentation will be box-office darling My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
And Charter Communications last week signed on to carry Mark Cuban's high-definition channels, HDNet and HDNet Movies. The services will be available on Charter's Dallas-Fort Worth and Glendale/Burbank, Calif., systems.

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