Hi-Def TV: A Global Exchange Adds More to the Mix

Oct 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

High-definition television is going global.

Over the past year, television programmers in the United States have tapped into a new business with worldwide distribution of their hi-def content. Several hi-def programmers attended MIPCOM earlier this month as part of their new efforts to extend the reach of their content overseas.

In the past several months, programmers such as Discovery HD Theater, Voom Networks and Scripps Networks have signed license agreements with foreign distributors to carry their shows or channels. Television executives say the fresh interest in their programming in foreign markets represents a new business opportunity as hi-def begins to take off in other countries.

Domestic programmers have been distributing their channels and programs in hi-def in the U.S. for several years now. But in 2006, interest skyrocketed abroad, said Greg Moyer, general manager of 3-year-old Voom HD Networks, which counts 15 hi-def channels.

He attributes that intense interest to several factors. First, prices of hi-def sets have dropped everywhere. That increases demand and opportunity both in the U.S. and globally. Also, distributors are now transitioning to MPEG-4 compression technology as the underpinning for their hi-def expansions. MPEG-4 allows service providers to deliver about twice the number of hi-def channels over the same amount of bandwidth. Hi-def programming is a notorious bandwidth hog, and MPEG-4 gives providers more channel space and the luxury of a broader lineup.

Finally, the World Cup in June stimulated demand globally because it’s the sort of marquee event that drives people to buy hi-def sets, in the same way the Super Bowl does in the U.S. “It’s bigger than the Olympics everywhere else,” Mr. Moyer said. “That was effectively the starting gun going off for hi-def around the world, and it started with the World Cup. In Germany it was the first time that all 64 matches were shot in hi-def.”

That pushed many international cable and satellite operators to roll out hi-def services for the first time to capitalize on interest in the event. As distributors rushed to offer sports feeds in hi-def, they also sought to augment that with additional hi-def programming. Voom, for instance, cut a deal in Britain with satellite broadcaster BSkyB to carry its programming. In June, Voom launched shows in Singapore and Italy. On Nov.1, Voom is slated to launch its first dedicated channel outside of North America with a 24-hour feed into Scandinavia. Mr. Moyer also said he expects to roll out several European and Asian launches in the first quarter of 2007.

“[The World Cup] was the beginning of the hi-def era around the world and outside of the United States and Japan, where it’s been happening for the last three to four years,” he said. “The timing of our arrival with enough inventory to launch a full native channel of hi-def content was perfect.

Building a `Bouquet’

“We are able to provide a feed of high-quality native hi-def programming for these platforms that are now trying to build a bouquet of services with movie channels, sports channels, documentary channels like Discovery HD Theater and National Geographic Channel.”

Voom, because of its suite of 15 channels, is well positioned to take advantage of the current international push to roll out hi-def programming. Also, Voom owns most of its own programming, which makes distribution less expensive. international marketplace, such as dubbing or subtitling as well as modifying the product when needed. The business opportunity lies in the license fees that networks can now accrue when they open up new borders.

“I did not think it would be a big part of our business when we launched three years ago and now I think it will be a huge part,” Mr. Moyer said. “I am very pleased to see the rest of the world catch up and get the HD bug.”

Other networks are having success too. Scripps Networks has licensed hi-def programming in Japan to the Fox Life HD channel, said Anna Alvord, director of international development for Scripps. The network group licensed “Dwell” and “Pairings With Andrea” from Fine Living, “Everyday Italian” and “Good Deal With Dave Lieberman” from Food Network, and “Small Space, Big Style” and “Offbeat America” from HGTV.

Those programs represent 52 hours of programming, Ms. Alvord said. She added that Scripps has more than 800 hours of HD programming available for international license and expects that number to rise in 2007.

“We found quite a bit of interest in hi-def programming at MIPCOM [in early October], including buyers from Singapore, Indonesia and Korea,” she said. “We’ve also had discussions with companies representing networks in China.”

Ms. Alvord focuses primarily on Asia Pacific and Eastern Europe, but said she expects interest in other territories to be similarly strong.

Discovery HD Theater began launching internationally in 2005 in South Korea, Japan and Canada. That was followed by rollouts this year in Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Poland.

“Our content travels well internationally,” said Clint Stinchcomb, executive VP of New Media and HDTV for Discovery. “We are very bullish on Discovery HD Theater internationally.”

INHD attended MIPCOM and said it plans to syndicate some of its series internationally, including content from the Mojo original block of prime-time programming on the INHD network.