A maverick in high-def

Apr 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Mark Cuban, the owner of HDNet, the all-HDTV channel, was asked recently whether sports will drive sales of high-def sets.
“It won’t,” Cuban replied. “The price drops of TVs … will drive the adoption of HD.”
What?! Isn’t this like a bread salesman saying he doesn’t need butter? HDNet’s lineup is dominated by sporting events, including live broadcasts of the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball. Plus, Cuban has frequently stated that sports is crucial to HD growth.
“When people start seeing it in the sports bars … they will want it for themselves,” he told Audio Revolution magazine in late 2001.
Why is the colorful entrepreneur suddenly downplaying sports? Because, like the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, which he also owns, Cuban is better at playing offense than defense. He’s now attacking the importance of sports because he’s no longer the king of the category. That title now goes to Disney’s ESPN.
ESPN last week launched its high-def sports channel, ESPN HD. Thanks to Disney’s clout, most cable and satellite TV operators will likely carry the new network in the coming months. (A handful of cable operators have already added it to their lineups.) ESPN HD will deliver everything from the NBA to MLB to SportsCenter in the exquisite detail of high definition.
I predict that the new channel will dramatically boost awareness-and sales-of HDTV. The male sports fan is the HD industry’s target audience-and ESPN HD is the perfect showcase for the technology’s benefits.
Cuban, whose HDNet is available on DirecTV, has struggled to persuade cable operators to carry his channel. My sources tell me that most cable ops have been waiting for ESPN. Even with digital technology, there’s only so much room for niche channels.
As usual, Cuban is ahead of the game. Cuban recently launched HDNet Movies (now available to Charter Cable subscribers but not DirecTV), and he has added more nonsports programming to HDNet.
TelevisionWeek has learned that he has also discussed purchasing HDTV titles from adult film directors. Don’t be surprised if Cuban ultimately launches an all-adult HDTV channel.
The move would be risky as well as risque. But no one said that Mark Cuban is averse to taking chances.
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions .com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.