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Comcast to Launch New HD Channel

Nov 15, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Comcast is about to announce the creation of new high-definition cable channel combining content from its Versus and Golf Channel brands.

Beginning in January, the new network will simulcast Golf Channel programming by day and Versus (formerly OLN) content by night. Comcast, which owns both networks, plans to call the channel Golf Channel/Versus.

The channel will join Comcast’s lineup of networks consisting of E!, Style, Golf Channel, Versus, G4 and regional sports outlets. Comcast has a commitment from DirecTV to start carrying the new channel some time next year. Comcast will gradually begin rolling out the new network on its own systems starting in January, a Versus executive said.

Golf Channel/Versus will represent an unusual entry among HD networks. Most cable brands launch either a simulcast HD network (such as ESPN and TNT), or a stand-alone channel that combines content from several brands (such as Discovery HD Theater and MTV’s MHD).

By mixing content from two channels, yet airing as a simulcast during different times during the day, Golf Channel/Versus aims for the best of both worlds.

“We think this is the simplest, easiest and best way to go right now,” said Marc Fein, senior VP of programming and production for Versus.

Mr. Fein said Comcast decided to combine the channels because that solution gives bandwidth-strapped carriers more incentive to offer the HD service—which is free to cable and satellite operators that currently run Versus and Golf Channel.

By running a simulcast feed, Comcast hopes to decrease viewer confusion, Mr. Fein said.

“If you want to watch the hockey game, you can see it in either standard definition or HD at the same time,” he said.

Under the Versus brand, the channel will initially offer HD hockey, boxing, bull riding and field sports, which will air from 7 p.m. to midnight. Executives still haven’t decided whether Versus’s tentpole event, the Tour de France, will be available in HD, as the network relies on a feed from an overseas partner, Mr. Fein said.

“There have been good conversations; it is possible,” Mr. Fein said.

Golf Channel programming will include an exclusive HD airing of the PGA Tour and hundreds of hours of play from other tournaments, and will run from noon to 7 p.m.

On Comcast’s cable systems, the new channel will take the place of INHD 2, which is being combined with INHD in January after being slowly phased out on several systems.

TelevisionWeek‘s HD Newsletter first reported that INHD 2 might be shut down in July. (See story here.)

But INHD 2’s owner, iN Demand Networks, which is partly owned by Comcast, has repeatedly denied the network was going away.

Last month, Rob Jacobson, iN Demand’s president and CEO, told TVpredictions.com that the networks would be combined. iN Demand did not return a call seeking for comment.