Thirty-five years after Japanese pubcaster NHKdeveloped hd technology, the format has come of age. ‘Increasingly, there are no more hd virgins,’ says John Ford, exec VPof programming at National Geographic Channel U.S. ‘Almost every company we’ve talked to has been through the process of producing in hd, understands the technology, and is able to bring costs down.’
Plummeting costs and the promise of more affordable HD televisions and set-top boxes have content providers committing to the format. This month, Stockholm-based C More Entertainment is rolling out C More HD across the Nordic region. The pay channel will be bundled with several Canal+ brands and aims to have 5,000 to 10,000 subscribers within nine months. ‘We currently have 770,000 subscribers [for the standard pay channel] in the Nordic territory, but there are not that many HD TV sets yet and not that many set-top boxes that can receive the HD TV signal, so we depend on that,’ says Line Mykland, head of programs for C More Entertainment.
C More HD will focus on sports and feature films, including documentaries. Mykland says docs that are cinematic or related to movies are of particular interest, but she notes that the number of factual films aired will be limited.
Launched in June 2002, Discovery HD Theater was one of the first 24-hour high-def channels in the U.S. In November, Discovery HD will begin broadcasting in Germany and Austria, becoming the network’s first international 24-hour high-def offering. More are sure to follow. ‘A lot of our content travels well, so we’ve provided the international networks with a terrific base of programming from which to launch. They’ll continue to build on that to make it more appealing to the individual territories,’ says Clint Stinchcomb, SVP and GM of Discovery HD Theater, adding, ‘We see Discovery HD rolling out globally.’ One third of HD Theater’s programming is original to the channel; most focuses on globally appealing genres such as travel, wildlife, science and tech.
Stinchcomb says u.s. audiences can currently access over 5,000 hours of HD content a week across the market – and their choices are increasing. At the RealScreen Summit in February, NGC’s Ford noted that the channel was shifting all production to HD. ‘If you want to produce in a format other than HD you have to have a waiver,’ he explains. And on January 7, 2006, NGC HD will debut, offering a high-def simulcast of the basic net. By then, 90% of NGC’s primetime content will be in HD. ‘With the market at its current size, growing rapidly and poised to take off, now is the perfect time to be headed for a launch,’ says Ford, noting that the HD launch also marks NGC’s fifth anniversary.
Considering the new entrants to the HD market, Stinchcomb is optimistic about the platform’s future. ‘Expanded basic cable took off because consumers were offered a variety of content,’ he says. ‘The presence of NGC HD will only increase HD viewing.’