Sports is ready for its HD closeup. Which is why TNT chose the NBA's Western Conference Finals for its HD debut. TNT's entry into the HD market last week adds another cable channel to the mix and challenges bandwidth-ready cable operators to carry it. (Ironically, the lack of available bandwidth prevents TNT sister company Time Warner Cable from offering it in some markets, such as New York.) TNT-HD network is available on some Time Warner Cable and Bright House cable systems, as well as Dish Network and Voom. Dan Darling, executive vice president, Turner Entertainment Operations, discussed the HD market and TNT's new opportunity with B&C.
How did the first week of TNT-HD go?
Fantastic. I don't think we could have asked for a better launch. The quality of programming with the Western Conference Finals was a hit.
Coming out of a launch, what is your advice to other networks?
There are a lot of technical hurdles we've had to overcome. We've done an extremely good job, even if it isn't a true HD program. We've actually worked on some new technologies that are proprietary to Turner with a company called Teranex. They allow us to do what we call "flexview." We've had favorable response from viewers, who said it was some of the best upconverted material they've seen. We're proud of that.
What we've also discovered when we're on-site at a large event is: There's a lot of setup time when you do an HD and SD broadcast.
Does it take an extra day?
It does. There is a lot of work and different aspect-ratio feeds going to different places. It's a learning curve for the industry regarding setup. It's like doing two broadcasts.
One of the interesting things with your network and ESPN launching is the ad opportunities. When do you think advertisers will jump on board and take advantage of HD?
There aren't full studies on who the viewers are. We consider them upscale because of the initial costs, but I think that entry point has come down dramatically in the last two years. A lot of people are engaged. And once data starts coming out about the quality of the viewer and the quality of the product, you'll start seeing an ad movement.
How much work has to be done to get your non-sports content ready for HD telecast?
We're shooting for a full spectrum of HD, and we have distributors doing transfers. There is a lot of work to put this on and to make it a quality we want.
Do you do any upconversion yourself?
No, we don't. We request 1080i and use Sony's HDCAM-SR deck.
What do you see as the advantage of that deck?
It gives us full-resolution without compression. Eventually, when HDTVs are manufactured in higher resolutions, we're fully prepared for the next generation of plasmas or LCDs [liquid-crystal displays] that come on the market. The long-term future is full-resolution, and it'll take a while to get there. But when we do, the infrastructure we've built and the decks we've put in will accommodate the best product we have now and in the future.