If content is king, then high-definition television will earn its crown next year. By mid-2006 one of the shortcomings of HDTV-a lack of programming-will have improved when four new channels light up their HD signals.
HD fare from MTV Networks, National Geographic Channel, HGTV and Food Network will join HD pioneers ESPNHD, Discovery HD Theater, HDNet, INHD, TNT-HD, Universal HD and the most recently minted HD network, ESPN2HD.
With the addition of the new club members, HD should have a solid starting lineup and a strong bench too. What’s more, the new entrants bring programming that has heretofore rarely been available in HD-lifestyle content for women, for instance, and music programming. The networks hope that their presence will address the concerns of consumers, who fear there’s not enough content available to justify the set purchase.
Here’s a status report on who’s entering the fray.
Food Network has transitioned 338 hours of content to HD from about 36 series and specials, including “Good Eats,” “Paula’s Home Cooking” and “Everyday Italian.” Scripps will also include some Fine Living shows on Food Network in HD and some DIY-Do-It-Yourself shows on HGTV in hi-def.
Scripps believes it will have an advantage in offering the only two HD networks geared toward women. Traditional HD fare, such as sports, has targeted men. Scripps Networks Executive VP Burton Jablin said he expects to have carriage agreements in place by January.
The network will program the channel in eight-hour blocks throughout the day, said Jeff Yapp, executive VP of program enterprises at MTV Networks. The network will add more content each month.
“The current planning is for it to be a purely music-centric channel. The hi-def medium really lends itself to music,” Mr. Yapp said. The channel will consist of about 50 percent long-form content and 50 percent music videos, many of which will have been converted to HD.
The network group is currently finishing an HD control room in Long Island, N.Y. Current industry estimates suggest that shooting in HD costs between 10 percent and 20 percent more than traditional production. MTV said its costs are turning out to be on the lower end of that range.
“Virtually everything we produce now is in HD,” he said. By the end of January National Geographic Channel expects to have 170 hours in HD, allowing it to broadcast about 90 percent of its prime-time content in HD. Each month thereafter the channel will add about 30 hours of HD content so that by the end of next year it will have amassed a library of about 400 HD hours.
That’s not bad for a channel that produces up to 350 hours of content each year. In advance of the launch, NGCHD still needs to work out a number of kinks. Because the service is a simulcast, programs and on-screen graphics must look good in both traditional and HD formats.
“You have to make sure graphics, lower thirds, bugs will get in the picture on both screens broadcast at the same time,” Mr. Ford said. Later this year the network will conduct a live test of the channel before it sends the signal to consumers Jan. 7. Mr. Ford expects carriage agreements will have been sealed by then.