A&E HD’s Stealth Launch

Oct 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A&E HD exists, but the network has been awfully quiet.
The company announced the simulcast channel in April and touted a Labor Day debut, then … that’s about it. No more press releases and nary a mention of an HD channel on the network’s Web site.
The simulcast launched last month as planned on two U.S. systems totaling about 1 million viewers, according to A&E executives. But they won’t say where the simulcast is available for viewing until the operators carrying the network sign off on the joint press releases.
David Zagin, executive VP of distribution for A&E, said the channel has no concerns about acquiring distribution in the tight marketplace.
“The interest in A&E HD is so positive because of the brand and programming and [the off-HBO run of ‘The Sopranos’] coming to the network in 2007,” he said. “We’ve been in discussions with everybody.”
Mr. Zagin said several of A&E’s dramatic nonfiction shows considered to be in the “docu-soap” genre have made the HD jump. “Dallas SWAT,” “The First 48,” “Inked,” “King of Cars,” “Driving Force” and “Sons of Hollywood” are all in the format, which is a larger-than-average number of HD series for a channel debut.
Combined with off-network airings of “CSI: Miami” in HD, A&E claims about 65 percent of prime time is in the format. By 2008, the channel expects 90 percent of its content to be in HD.
Fickle viewers with confirmed A&E HD sightings have a few gripes. Like TNT HD, the network stretches standard-definition content into widescreen, rather than leaving that option for the viewer. The network highest-rated series, “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” is still in SD.
Mr. Zagin said no plans are in the works to upgrade “Dog” because it would be “prohibitively expensive” to shoot it in HD.
As for “The Sopranos,” which joins the network in January, the first two seasons will be upconverted rather than remastered in HD from its 35mm print. The show did not begin running in HD on HBO until the third season.
A&E Networks also has plans to launch a simulcast of the History Channel, but no date has been announced.
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s High Definition newsletter, a weekly source of breaking HD news, articles and interviews written by Senior Reporter James Hibberd.


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