Financial news network CNBC will launch a high-definition service this fall in an innovative fashion: by grabbing its existing 4:3 picture, shifting it to the left, and filling the widescreen frame with a bevy of 3D graphics displaying the latest market metrics.
The new network, branded CNBC HD+, will initially be carried by DirecTV as part of its dramatic expansion of HD channels, though CNBC will be actively pitching it to cable operators as well.
With its novel production approach, it will be seeking to differentiate itself from the standard-def CNBC more on enhanced content than picture quality, though it will upconvert the 4:3 video to 1080-line-interlace (1080i) HD resolution. CNBC HD+ will offer about 50% more graphical information by taking advantage of the extra onscreen space and improved resolution of the widescreen HD picture, which allows the use of smaller graphic fonts.
“What we did was take a very nontraditional approach to HD,” says Steve Fastook, CNBC vice president of technical and commercial operations. “It would be relatively easy for me to replace all the cameras, make the studios all hi-def and be all happy. But it doesn't give viewers anything different than what's on CNBC [in the traditional world].”
CNBC HD+'s top ticker will feature five stock indices instead of the three in the standard-def, 4:3 network, while the scrolling stock ticker on the bottom can display three companies at once, instead of the current one in SD. More important, the right-hand side of the screen will now present a variety of dynamic content through 3D graphics, such as “Stocks to Watch,” price charts or earnings data, or lists of investment sectors such as treasuries, commodities and currencies.
“We're able to come up with much more in-depth stuff,” says Fastook. “We can drill down here even more deeply. So the investor will be able to sit there and watch this and get used to drawing their eye to the right panel.”
CNBC HD+ will also take streaming video from its Website, CNBC.com, and place it in a dedicated box in the lower right corner of the screen (the “+” in the new network's name is actually a tie-in to the Web subscription product CNBC Plus). Viewers who are interested in the Web video will be able to listen to the associated audio by simply pressing the SAP (Secondary Audio Program) button on their remote, as CNBC HD+ will transmit the Web audio as a secondary audio stream. The Web audio option should be a handy feature for investors trying to follow lengthy Federal Reserve briefings, Congressional hearings and the like.
All of CNBC's Business Day programs will be offered on CNBC HD+ including Squawk Box, Squawk on the Street, The Call, Power Lunch, Street Signs, Closing Bell w/ Maria Bartiromo and Kudlow & Company. Beginning next year, CNBC plans to produce its documentaries in high-definition. Those will be offered on CNBC HD+ in full-screen HD, says Fastook, with standard graphics bars running along the top and bottom of the screen.
CNBC started planning for the HD service about a year ago, before DirecTV formalized its HD expansion plans, as it recognized that a growing percentage of its viewers were adopting high-definition displays in their living rooms and offices and on the trading floor. Initially, the network thought about offering a center-cut 4:3 picture with graphic sidebars, but the limited space meant the graphics were too small to be of any value. That's when CNBC shifted its strategy to the left side of the screen.
“By sliding over, we really got a nice chunk of real estate to be able to put those indices and that in-depth data,” says Fastook.
CNBC HD+'s graphic-intensive production strategy is also cost-effective. Because the network isn't buying new HD cameras, upgrading sets for widescreen camera positions, or creating a dedicated HD control room, the HD launch only represents about a $3 million investment—less than many local stations have spent to launch HD newscasts.