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Films with great definition

Feb 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

HDNet, the first exclusive high-definition 24-hour TV network, and its recently debuted HDNet Movies Network, are seeking connections to Hollywood film studios, cable system operators, program producers and news personnel. There’s a lot on the plates of co-founders Mark Cuban and Philip Garvin, who launched HDNet Sept. 21, 2001, and bowed the all-movie channel three weeks ago.
The Dallas-based company’s networks are carried by DirecTV and by Charter Communications cable systems in Dallas-Fort Worth and Glendale-Burbank, Calif. Its signal is carried by nearly 1,800 consumer electronics retailers and 1,200 sports bars, regular bars, restaurants and hotels, noted Mr. Cuban, whose other interests include the Dallas Mavericks and Rysher Entertainment.
The company has licensed the 75-year-old Warner Bros. film library, select MGM movie titles (“Rocky 5,” “Inherit the Wind”) and MGM TV series (“Equal Justice”) and TV series from Paramount (“Big Apple,” “First Monday,” “Love and Money”). Mr. Cuban indicated he’s talking to unnamed film studios to acquire HD rights to their titles. He’s also seeking additional cable system carriage within the next several months.
The programming schedule on HDNet encompasses entertainment, sports and news. Mr. Cuban’s growth plans include increasing staff producer/editors from one to five in New York and Los Angeles. “Our goal is to produce more high-definition content than anyone combined. We’ll produce more than 1,000 original hours of HD this year,” Mr. Cuban said. “Most people don’t realize that 35mm film mastered on tape can’t be converted, so most of our content will have to come from newly created programming.”
The company’s Denver Broadcast Center handles the actual broadcasts and content editing, which is also done in Dallas.
The company’s two mobile satellite trucks, built by Mr. Garvin’s Colorado Studio, roll to sports and music events. Mr. Cuban noted: “We typically produce 10 to 15 hours of shows per week in which our trucks are involved.” These include concerts by James Taylor, David Allen Coe, Heart, Ice-T and Teddy Pendergrass. “Most of our music shows are done live to tape. The value of being live isn’t a big deal for us. We’d rather schedule these concerts at night and put together a music block on the weekend.”
Using HD cameras and videotape, multichannel surround-sound audio and a high-resolution wide-screen picture, Mr. Cuban links the network’s slogan, “It’s like being there,” to the actual HD experience.
The tagline “Movies like you’ve never seen before,” also applies to the HD Movies channel, which offers 300 uncut film titles, all converted by the licensee to HD in the original aspect ratio of 16:9 for wide-screen HD TV sets. The movie network is commercial-free, whereas HDNet has such sponsors as Budweiser, Mitsubishi, Sony and RCA, among others.
HDNet’s sports roster includes Major League Baseball, NFL, professional lacrosse, college basketball from the Mid-America Conference and select collegiate football but no Mavericks basketball, “since we don’t have the rights right now,” lamented team owner Mr. Cuban.
HDNet partners with PBS for news coverage and also uses outside reporters. News, which represents 15 percent of the channel’s schedule, is aired during the 6 p.m.-to-7 p.m. hour. “Last week,” Mr. Cuban said, “we had people shooting the snow storms along the East Coast. We will be developing our news operation, because news in HD is very compelling. Rather than a talking head telling about what you will see, we let the pictures do the talking.”
Eric Frankel, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution, explained that connecting with HDNet represents “being entrepreneurial by dealing with a new entity that allows us to keep our library active and generate revenue. We believe high-definition will happen and our long-term deal allows us to be a principal supplier to NDNet and also have a minority ownership in the company.”
Mr. Franklin reveals Warner Bros. is also “having conversations with Mark about being involved with his other planned networks.”
This equity position, for which Mr. Frankel won’t discuss the dollar amount invested, “allows us to figure out which of our films are available in any given month. Our business relies on how we keep our movies rented all the time at reasonable dollars.”
Under the terms of its deal with HDNet, each month Warner Bros. provides 30 films converted to high definition. Explains Mr. Franklin: “We have an entire group dedicated to making HD product within our technical and engineering operation, and we send them an HD master of the movie.”
Among Warner Bros.’ vaunted titles available to the network are “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which won five Academy awards; “Barry Lyndon,” Stanley Kubrick’s four-Oscar winner; “A Clockwork Orange,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “A Chorus Line,” “The Main Event” and “Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser.”
Mr. Frankel calls the current state of HD “a land grab in which a lot of people think it’ll become a popular format and are trying to claim their stakes. A typical satellite system won’t be able to afford everyone, so you want to be one of the first guys to grab HD space.” He also said he’s getting calls from cable networks that are looking for films in HD and that syndication will become a good HD market. “Half of the shows in prime time on broadcast are in HD and almost every drama next year will be in HD. The Super Bowl was broadcast on ABC in HD, as was the recent NBA All-Star game on TNT.”