In Depth

ESPNU to Start HD Broadcasts This Month

Walt Disney’s ESPN sports network next week will start high-definition broadcasts on its college sports channel in time for the beginning of the college football season.
ESPNU was launched in 2005 and is available to about one-fifth of the 96 million households who receive ESPN. The service will debut its HD broadcasts when it airs the Vanderbilt-Miami of Ohio game on Aug. 28, said Rosalyn Durant, VP and general manager of ESPNU.

About 200 of the 565 live events ESPNU will televise over the next 12 months, including all of its college football games on Thursdays and Saturdays, will be available in HD.

“It’s a natural fit,” Ms. Durant said. “We’re always looking for more innovative ways to reach the fans.”

The sports broadcasting giant, which has five channels, is responding to a surge in U.S. high-definition television sales, spurred by falling costs and the switchover to all-digital broadcasts in February. North American second-quarter shipments of liquid-crystal display televisions—almost all of which are HDTVs—jumped 52% from a year earlier and accounted for 80% of the total shipments, NPD unit DisplaySearch said last week.

ESPN, which began broadcasting in 1979 and debuted its HD broadcasts in 2003, helped its parent company boost earnings for its most recently completed quarter by 9%, Disney said last month. With ESPN’s higher affiliate and advertising fees, Disney’s cable networks boosted operating earnings 14% from a year earlier as revenue for the networks increased 12%.

ESPNU competes with regional sports networks such as News Corp.’s FSN Networks and Comcast SportsNet, which also are boosting the percentage of games they’re broadcasting in HD. FSN said this year that it expects all of its 16 regional networks to be full-time HD by next year.