EchoStar puts CBS into HDTV orbit

Jul 16, 2001  •  Post A Comment

CBS and EchoStar Communications announced an agreement last week that cleared the way for the satellite company to offer the network’s high-definition TV programming to some DISH Network subscribers.
Under the two-year deal, the HDTV programming generally could be pitched to satellite TV subscribers in the 16 markets in which CBS owns television stations and in areas unserved by CBS affiliates.
DISH Network would have to get a CBS affiliate’s permission to sell the network programming within the affiliate’s service area.
In a statement, the two companies, which declined comment on the financial aspects of the deal, said the arrangement was intended to stimulate the market for HDTV.
“With this partnership, we are speeding the nation’s adoption of digital and high-definition television,” said Michael Schwimmer, EchoStar vice president of programming.
A spokeswoman for the Consumer Electronics Association said the deal was a “huge step forward in delivering HDTV programming to subscribers not presently offered digital television by their local station.”
But one well-placed industry source said the deal could also be read as an act of desperation on CBS’s part, an admission that the transition to DTV isn’t working through terrestrial television.
“What you have here is a digital bypass,” the source said. “This should be a wake-up call to government, if they want to keep a free digital over-the-air TV system.”

An EchoStar spokesman said that under the company’s game plan, CBS’s HDTV programming will be added to DISH’s three existing HDTV offerings: HBO, Showtime and a pay-per-view channel.
To get the HDTV offerings, subscribers will have to purchase an HDTV set, an additional dish ($99) and a special set-top box ($499) and pay monthly fees, the spokesman said.
For an extra $149, subscribers can purchase a tuner cartridge for the box that will enable them to receive broadcast DTV signals over the air.
The broadcast industry’s undisputed champion when it comes to digital television programming, CBS is currently broadcasting 17 of its 18 prime-time dramas and comedies in HDTV. The network also offers selected sports programming in HDTV, along with its daytime soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”
“By adding DISH Network to our industry-leading high-definition partnership, CBS is once again demonstrating its determination to bring the amazing HD viewing experience to more of our audiences and to do everything we can to advance the transition to digital broadcasting,” said Martin Franks, CBS Television executive vice president.