Driving HD

Stinchcomb helms Discovery's strategy

How seriously does Discovery take HD? Very seriously. Check out projects like the recently aired miniseries Arctic Mission and the soon-to-be-launched Atlas HD project; they scream larger ambition. Both strive to boost ratings, even as they attempt to influence public policy and attitudes. Clint Stinchcomb, senior vice president and general manager of Discovery HD Theater, has a different purpose: to affect the way viewers watch HDTV and perceive the Discovery brand. He shares the network's current projects, future plans, and the drive to HDTV with B&C.

Can you tell me about the new Atlas HD project?

The first airing is Nov. 28. If we do the Atlas HD initiative correctly, we believe we can create the world's most valuable visual record of civilization and geography. We're going to go to 30 different countries and regions. We'll look at everything from the land formations and wildlife to modern life, sports, and politics.

Because this is quarterly, will it be a multi-year project?

It's a several-year project that should go on for six years.

Discovery does all its HD work in HD video. Is that easier and cheaper than working in film?

It's preferable to a film transfer. And the camera crew will tell you it is as if you took a towel out of your bag and wiped off the lens. It's that much clearer.

What will it take to get advertisers interested in airing spots in HD?

It's just numbers right now. Currently, there are about 9 million HD monitors in homes, and a little north of 2 million have an HD receiver so they can watch HDTV. There's a gap for a couple of reasons. Cable operators have just began rolling out HD services in earnest. Also, the competition between satellite and cable will help. The sets are out there waiting for boxes.

Does HD sell itself, or is it more complex?

Seeing is selling. It can be fashionable to talk about how confusing HDTV is, but that's the case with any new technology, particularly at point of sale. That said, there is a little bit of confusion, but the great news is, if you have an HDTV set and an HDTV set-top box from a cable or satellite provider, you're good to go. As we saw with VCRs, PCs, and high-speed access, consumer confusion will dissipate.

Do you find that everyone on the programming side understands the benefits of HD?

No, not yet. Everybody that is working in it loves it. When I came here a year ago, we had to beg certain producers to do HDTV. Now there has been a real shift. From a content standpoint, if you shoot in HD, your shelf life is going to be a lot better. A program being sold in syndication in a few years will probably fetch a higher value, all things being equal. What we're seeing now is a tectonic shift, where people want to embrace it because they don't want to be left behind.