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Programming Pioneer: HBO’s Bob Zitter

Apr 3, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The player: Bob Zitter, chief technology officer at HBO
The play: Mr. Zitter was largely responsible for HBO being the first cable network to broadcast in high definition. That was in 1999, the same year CBS started HD broadcasts. More than 80% of HBO’s programming now is in true HD, up from about 45% when HBO started 24-hour-a-day HD programming. “Even if we weren’t going to make any more money on it, if consumers were going to get a higher-quality television and they couldn’t get programming from someone else, they had to get it from HBO,” Mr. Zitter said.
The pitch: Mr. Zitter expects the Time Warner unit to offer 100% of its original programming, including series, miniseries, documentaries and sports events, in true HD, with no up-converting, by the end of the year. “The tipping point has already passed,” said Mr. Zitter, who was elected into the Cable Television Hall of Fame in 2006. “Anything anyone’s going to be doing in the TV space needs to be in hi-def.”
The challenge: Other networks have caught up to HBO with HD programming amid the proliferation of other content-delivery options such as Blu-ray discs and online downloading services. In February, Liberty Media unit Starz overtook HBO in ratings among premium cable channels, posting a 0.7 all-day rating compared with HBO’s 0.6 rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. “There are more and more ways consumers can get video entertainment,” said Mr. Zitter, who added that the network is considering offering on-demand services in HD, though he declined to say when. “That is something that is both a competitive challenge and a big opportunity. We too are in the DVD business.”
Backstory: Mr. Zitter, who declined to give his age, started with HBO in 1981, overseeing network operations before becoming senior VP of technology operations in 1991. He previously ran cable operations at Indiana-based Schurz Communications and network operations for ABC-TV in New York. He also was a television director for the U.S. Army from 1969-71, though he noted, “It wasn’t in HD.” Raised just outside of New York City, Mr. Zitter received an undergraduate degree from Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and an MBA from Frostburg State University in Maryland.

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