Hi-Def Television: A Big Call for Content

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The high-definition boom that is expected to come this year in content and set purchases is reverberating throughout the TV production food chain. HD’s growth is opening opportunities for production houses, many of which have upgraded to HD equipment and are seeing a boom in business, revenue and opportunity.

New HD networks from MTV, Food Network, HGTV and National Geographic Channel are launching this quarter. Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Association predicts that retailers will sell 12.1 million analog sets and 16.3 million HD sets this year, marking the first time HD set sales will outpace analog.

Existing HD networks are also upping their output. ESPN HD and ESPN2 HD finished 2005 with 474 events telecast in HD. This year that number will increase by at least 30 percent to more than 600.

The activity is quickly trickling down to production houses, which are cranking up their HD output to accommodate the growing demand for content from new and existing outlets.

Brainbox Productions, for example, now shoots about 90 percent of its work in HD compared with only a handful of HD projects in 2004.

“Everyone involved in supplying content is going to benefit,” said Nick Panagopoulos, president and executive producer with Brainbox, which produces in high definition the HGTV series “Small Space, Big Style” and Discovery Channel’s “Roush Racing: Driver X.”

Other factors are driving business at production shops too, including fresh interest in short-form content for mobile and broadband platforms. “It is a golden age because you have these HD channels and you have podcasts. … Lots of Web networks are opening up. There are lots of outlets and need for content,” Mr. Panagopoulos said.

A number of production houses were scheduled to exhibit at National Association of Television Program Executives last week for the first time because of this rising demand for content, including content in HD.

Bennett Media Worldwide, for instance, planned to be at the conference. It produces a number of TV shows in HD, including “Bikini Destinations” for HDNet.

“Our goal at NATPE is to present ourselves as a full-fledged one-stop shop production and distribution company,” said Paul Rich, CEO of Bennett Media Worldwide. His company is also evaluating the possible launch of its own HD network for men 18 to 54, the demographic its shows largely target, he said. In addition to HD distribution, Mr. Rich said he also planned to look into growing mobile, IPTV and Internet opportunities.

Also scheduled to make its first appearance at NATPE was SportsHD Productions, which was founded in August 2005 to focus primarily on producing sports-based documentaries in HD. Matt Bortz, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said he expects to see a growing demand for this programming for many reasons.

“With prices of high-definition television sets continuing to drop, consumer demand increasing, more and more HD networks coming online in 2006 and sports content driving the HD explosion, the dearth of quality HD sports programming-both domestically and internationally-will only be exacerbated,” Mr. Bortz said.

He added, “Entering the HD marketplace in late 2005 has allowed us to establish a foothold as a ‘go-to’ producer of sports-based HD programming.” Among the networks he’s targeting as potential outlets for SportsHD’s content are ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD, OLN HD, INHD, HDNet, Discovery HD Theater, Voom, Universal HD and TNT HD.

Like the other production shops, Mr. Bortz is also crafting content for other new platforms, such as mobile TV, video-on-demand and iPods. “We are keeping an eye on the ever-evolving distribution front and we need to be positioned to take advantage of whatever distribution platforms wind up being the winners,” he said.

Making the leap to HD need not be daunting for a small production shop, Mr. Panagopoulos said. Production houses can opt for a starter-level HD investment for under $6,000, spend as much as $300,000 for all the bells and whistles, or choose options in between, he said. The investment is worthwhile because it opens doors to more work, he said.

Brainbox, for example, grew its revenues in 2005 to $7 million, up from $3 million to $4 million in 2004. Much of that growth came from HD, he said.