HDTV owners, start your engines. HDNet is teaming up with NASCAR to carry the racing league's Grand National Division in high-def. The package starts April 25, and HDNet will carry 18 races this year (15 of them live). Another 20 roar into view in 2005, 22 events in 2006.
HDNet's three-year deal runs through the 2006 season, when the national TV deal for NASCAR's marquee Nextel Cup, which is shared by NBC and TNT, and Fox and FX, also runs out. Both can be renewed.
Until then, racing is in high gear. HDNet will produce the Grand National races in 1080i, the highest-quality HD format. This is NASCAR's first high-definition package, although NBC aired last month's Daytona 500 in HD.
That crystal-clear telecast ramped up NASCAR's appetite for more HD telecasts. "We look great in high-definition," says Jeffrey Pollack, NASCAR's new media chief. "Everything is cleaner. You can really see the cars and all of the sponsor identification."
Fans that haven't upgraded to HDTV don't have to fret. Fox-owned cable net Speed Channel will re-air the HDNet races in standard-definition, along with several other Grand National events.
To keep its engine running, the network is investing millions in production-related expenses.
"Racing is television production's greatest challenge," says Philip Garvin, who co-founded HDNet in 2001 with Dallas Mavericks owner and Internet entrepreneur Mark Cuban. "When you add high-definition, you need more cameras, more replay, and much more preparation."
The investment comes as HDNet enjoys a growth spurt. Through deals with Time Warner Cable, Adelphia, Insight Communications, and Mediacom, as well as DirecTV and Dish Network, the channel is pushing past 1 million subscribers.
And more auto racing is coming. HDNet is also the HD home for the Champ Car World Series, which starts in April. Spike TV will carry standard-definition telecasts, but HDNet's will be live.