Tech Briefs

Oct 11, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Channel Builds HD Library

National Geographic Channel is working on bolstering its store of high-definition content to prepare for the possibility of launching a hi-def service in the near future. While the network has not determined a specific time frame or even committed yet to launching an HD service, it is amassing close to 100 hours of content so it can be ready with a strong HD library, said John Ford, executive VP, programming, at National Geographic.

In particular, the network is working on producing its four-part miniseries “Tales from the Tomb” in HD. The series, one of the first greenlighted in HD, is slated to run early next year. National Geographic is considering airing the miniseries in HD, though without its own HD service at the moment it’s looking at a variety of ways to air the show in HD.

“Eventually, maybe a year from now, we launch a channel,” he said. To build up the necessary library, Mr. Ford said, the channel is incorporating the cost into production budgets for the incremental expense of shooting in HD, which can cost 10 percent to 15 percent more, he said.

“So we would cover the cost, and that essentially gets us to building up a library, to be ready to launch if we are ready to launch,” he said. He’d like to have 70 to 100 hours of HD content to start, which would enable up to 30 percent of prime-time content in any given quarter to be carried in HD, he said.

Mr. Ford expects to have 40 to 50 hours of HD-ready content amassed by the end of this year and 70 to 100 hours sometime next year. In addition to the miniseries, Mr. Ford said, National Geographic is shooting some wildlife specials in Botswana in HD.

Deadline Looms for Stations

Nearly half of the 1,300 to 1,400 TV stations that are on the air in digital today are operating at less than full power, said David Glidden, director of television broadcast products and services at Harris Corp., which supplies transmitters to many TV stations.

That means close to 700 are operating at lower power, and about half of those have very low power, about 1,000 watts or less. “The problem with low power is you might not reach the whole [designated market area],” he said.

The business risk in that situation is that if a station doesn’t upgrade to full power-by July 2005 for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox stations in top 100 markets or 2006 for others-the Federal Communications Commission may license parts of the area to another station or entity, he said.

“Low power is a stopgap measure, absolutely,” Mr. Glidden said, and estimated that 50 percent to 60 percent of TV stations will make that date.

“Their full-power licenses could be allowed for other stations, low-power stations or even for WiMax. Their licensed area would shrink. It’s sort of like use it or lose it,” he said.