The Defining Moment

Voom's suite of HD channels could come on strong this year

Voom was Cablevision chief Chuck Dolan's all–high-definition satellite brainchild. But when it launched in 2003, it was too late to the DBS party. DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish TV already owned the market.

After losing $650 million, Voom folded last April. It was reborn in August as a suite of 10 HD channels on the Dish HD tier. Voom's channels included HD News, Kung Fu HD, Animania HD, arty Gallery HD, fashion-forward Ultra HD and raucous rocker Rave HD. Earlier this month, it added five more, including Gameplay HD, Film Fest HD and World Cinema HD.

Voom's deal with Dish isn't exclusive, but, says General Manager Greg Moyer, it's hard for a cable system to create bandwidth to add the suite of Voom channels, at least until MPEG-4 compression gives cable more capacity.

With HD growing (the Consumer Electronics Association says there may be 36 million HD sets by the end of the year), Moyers knows this is HD's moment. He recently talked about it with B&C's P.J. Bednarski.

Everybody has seen great looking HD. Give me your version of the highs and the “ordinaries” on Voom.

One of the things you'd say if you were just trying to make your television do new tricks, you would probably favor those channels that produce content in native HD because the actual “capture” of the images is going to be of much better resolution.

When we take movies and make HD out of them, we go back to the 35-millimeter film, and we make an HD video master. If you ask me if all the movies are of such spectacular quality that they almost all deserve to be in HD, the answer would be probably not. Some look spectacular. It varies even from era to era.

In the '70s, feature films were almost mimicking the vérité style, using less artificial lighting. They were reacting to those overlit studio-based things that were so dominant. Those '70s films today look a little less sharp.

But today, our tastes are for a little more technicolor—I mean, now we want a bright-orange flame in our explosions. The movies from the '70s look a little pale. When you go back and look at some of the movies that were made in the '50s and '60s or in black-and-white in the '30s or '40s, they look fabulous.

But we had Easy Rider on the other day. It was OK, but you probably would have gotten the same impact if you had watched a DVD of it in standard-def.

Doesn't it amaze you how poorly consumers have been informed about HDTV? There's still so much confusion in the market.

Absolutely. Companies like Dish are almost providing an HD primer!

I love the fact that [on the Dish Web site] they actually say, to get HD, you need to get an HD set and you have to connect with an HD source of programming. No segment of the industry ever explained it explicitly.

It's up to the 18-year-old at Circuit City. I feel for people if you haven't done your homework.

When HD is more the rule than the exception won't great looking sports and nature specials get a little old?

Fast-forward five years from now. Every channel that's not based on an historic archive, like maybe TV Land, will be in high-def. The difference will be, HD will have expanded the creative palette about what is possible on TV. It will become a much more compelling medium. You will find an engagement factor with HD that will never quite leave you.

It's like going from listening to music on an AM transistor and then suddenly getting a boom box. You're not going back to that transistor.

Is there a hidden driver to future HD sales?

We're seeing HD go from an elite phenomenon to a mass phenomenon.

I think a big thing is that all of the PlayStation games that come out this summer are built for HD resolution. That's going to have an enormous impact.

This should be Voom's sweet spot. Do you plan a bigger marketing push?

We're just started with this expanded lineup on Dish. We're planning more of a campaign later this year, in the second or third quarter.

We think there's a giant impetus for people to buy at least one new TV over the next three to five years. That just means HD has a huge moment to really capture the high ground. I want Voom to be a part of that.