‘GMA’ HD Rollout to Have 2 Phases

Oct 24, 2005  •  Post A Comment

ABC’s “Good Morning America” will be good to go in high-definition format Nov. 3 -except in the Central and Mountain time zones.

ABC News, which announced in May that “GMA” would be the first news program to be regularly broadcast in hi-def, does not expect to have the technical ability to do separate HD feeds of “GMA” in those areas until February.

The network mentioned last May during the ABC affiliates convention that the rollout would take place in two parts, but in its announcement and subsequent public comments did not note that some 38.6 million TV homes (35 percent of U.S. TV universe) would be unable to wake up to “GMA” in HD until next year.

Dennis O’Brien, “GMA’s” senior producer for special events and the morning show’s editorial staffer managing the conversion, said on-air promotion of the format switch, following the pattern of entertainment and sports programming already being offered in HD, will say “GMA” is now in hi-def “where available.”

The HD “GMA” will be an option on the eight ABC-owned stations located in the Eastern and Pacific time zones. Only two of ABC’s 10 O&Os are in the Central time zone: Chicago’s WLS-TV and Houston’s KTRK-TV.

As the hard-charging No. 2 morning show, “GMA” is determined to get every promotable edge it can over NBC’s increasingly vulnerable “Today” show, and Mr. O’Brien freely admitted that some of the rush to go hi-def before “GMA” could cover all time zones was so HD availability could be touted in the hoopla surrounding “GMA’s” high-profile 30th anniversary celebration in November.

“That’s just a huge deal for us,” Mr. O’Brien said. The hi-def element “is small but we know it’s going to grow. It’s the future. That’s what we’re about.”

No Hurry

“Today” is not scheduled to go hi-def until fall 2006. “Why rush it for the small numbers of viewers who can get it? We’re taking our time and getting it right,” said a “Today” spokesperson.

Fewer than 10 percent of viewers in the U.S. are estimated to be equipped to view high-definition broadcasts.

A spokesperson for CBS, which led the charge into hi-def in prime time in 1998, said the network has begun talking about when “The Early Show” might make the format switch but has not set a timetable.

However, the CBS spokesperson said, “We would not roll out our morning show the way ABC is. We would wait to have all the time zones covered before pulling the switch.”

“If ABC is smart in how they do it, it’s no problem for me,” said the general manager of an ABC affiliate in the Central time zone.

But another TV executive whose company has ABC affiliates in the Central and Mountain time zones fears that the “GMA” format upgrade will be promoted heavily on the East and West Coasts and, by being unavailable in the middle of the country, appear to “put the lie to” his company’s commitment to format upgrading.