Just two months before it was set to premiere one of the biggest high-definition spectacles ever on television Discovery Communications decided to postpone its epic “Atlas HD” series for at least a year.
The seven- to eight-year, $65 million project, originally introduced at the 2003 upfront by Discovery founder John Hendricks, is one of the most ambitious and expansive HD projects ever. It has been described by Discovery executives as the complete visual reference of the world, with each of the 30 two-hour-long shows delving into a different region or area of the world in-depth.
The project has been delayed until late 2005 because Discovery felt the early cuts could be improved. Discovery plans to fine-tune the content to improve the storytelling and better match the visual imagery, said Clint Stinchcomb, senior VP and general manager for Discovery HD Theater and video-on-demand.
“You always want to put out the best possible product. And we felt we could make it a little bit better and we would rather wait,” Mr. Stinchcomb said. “What we put together by any traditional measure was very good, but we really want `Atlas HD’ to be truly special. … We want the story to be better. We want the energy to be better. We want there to be multiple, fascinating revelations in the show, to give [viewers] a deeper insight into the country.” The goal is to create a show that can be a signature series for Discovery HD Theater, he said.
Since the production is going to be simulcast later next year on both Discovery HD Theater and the Discovery Channel-the first time the two channels will debut a show at the same time-Discovery Channel’s new General Manager Jane Root has become more involved in the new direction of “Atlas HD.” Input from Ms. Root, whose background includes a tenure at BBC Two, has helped in the development of story lines and to tweak the pacing.
The premiere episode of “Atlas HD” was slated to run Nov. 28 and take viewers on a journey through India. That’s been changed. Now China will be the first country out of the gate.
“If you look at what’s happening there right now-a country in incredible transformation right now, a country people don’t know a lot about-what better country to do?” Mr. Stinchcomb said. The show will cover China’s history, path to civilization, wildlife, ecosystem, politics and current transformation.
Another factor in the decision to delay the series is that several new HD production technologies are becoming available that will be used for “Atlas HD” and other HD projects. That includes new mini-handheld HD cameras that allow for closer, more intimate shots and cameras with more powerful zoom lenses that can be used on helicopters and enable better shots of animals in their natural habitats, for instance, Mr. Stinchcomb said.
With 30 separate two-hour episodes planned, Discovery HD Theater plans to showcase one country per quarter for the next seven to eight years. Other countries slated are Australia, France and Brazil.
Mr. Stinchcomb said Discovery will work closely with advertisers who had committed to the project to find an appropriate place for them, given the delay.
The delay will also have another benefit for Discovery-more HD eyeballs. About 30 percent of total TV sales next year will be for HD sets, said Sean Wargo, director, industry analysis, for the Consumer Electronics Association.
Despite the notable absence of “Atlas HD” this fall, Discovery HD Theater continues to add to its library and now offers about 40 new programming hours each month. Just last week it premiered “Sunrise Earth,” a series that depicts sunrises around the country. Other new additions include a Friday night performing arts show. Upcoming HD special “Ice Hotel” details a hotel built of snow and ice in Sweden, and “Alien Planet” delves into questions of life’s existence on other planets.