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Splitting Channels Crops Viewership

May 29, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Segregation was a bad idea for the South. Now, says one media company, it’s a bad idea for television’s multisystem operators.
Cable companies trying to catch up with satellite operators by expanding their high-definition inventory may be sabotaging their efforts by placing HD channels on a different subscription tier from their standard-definition counterparts and assigning far-away channels to them, according to Scripps Networks. The company culled data from about 300,000 set-top boxes.
Viewers accustomed to watching SD networks on certain channels may not bother to search out the HD simulcast even if they have the opportunity to do so, said Scripps, whose channels include Food Network and HGTV.
“We wondered why viewership of standard-definition programming persists when an HD version of it is available,” said Robin Garfield, VP of sales research and strategy at Scripps Networks.
“The data suggest that viewers used to navigating lower channel numbers continue to do so despite the presence of high-definition programming.”
U.S. satellite leader DirecTV late last year boasted what it said was an industry-leading 90 HD channels. Comcast, which has about half that number of HD channels, fired back in January by launching a video-on-demand service that will have an inventory of more than 1,000 show and film choices a month by the end of this year. The company also said it may have as many as 60 linear HD channels by the end of the year.
Still, Comcast’s tally of 24.7 million cable subscribers in the first quarter was little changed from a year earlier as the company depended on phone and Internet services to boost sales by 14%.
Meanwhile, DirecTV increased its U.S. subscribers 5.3% from a year earlier to more than 17 million while cutting its turnover rate to a 10-year low.
“The cable industry has a huge opportunity not only to expand the offer of high-definition programming, but to encourage viewers to see it,” said Lynne Costantini, executive VP of affiliate sales and marketing at Scripps.

6 Comments

  1. Another example of shortsightness on cable’s part.
    Viewers are creatures of habit. They don’t like to have to search in the hundreds for a channel that’s traditionally been a single or low double- digit number. If advertisers become aware of this, Big Cable will be forced to change its tiering policies.
    Many cable companies DO put their broadcast HD channels adjacent to the analog, on the assigned DTV channel numbers (i.e., 4.1, 4.2, etc.) — BUT only it viewers plug the “raw” cable directly into their HDTV sets, bypassing the cable box. That means bypassing video on demand, music on demand, and any channels only available on high channel numbers that can’t be tuned on the HDTV set’s tuner itself.
    FCC regs require that cable companies pass thru HD signals of must-carry stations… but so-called “starter digital” boxes (like Comcast’s) do NOT pass thru any HD at all. This would seem to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the regs, but it hasn’t been raised as an issue — probably because most cable subs rent an HD box even if they don’t need it to get broadcast HD.
    When some consumer group makes an issue of this, the cable companies may have to change their ways. Until then, many viewers will continue to think they have to pay extra for the HD box to get HD broadcast channels.

  2. Regarding Scripps, I’m sure the reason why many of the viewers are watching the SD feed is because they can’t stand the look of the non-linear stretch on non HD programs on the HD channel. Our household for one has decreased watching HGTV and Food HD by nearly 95% because of the stretching they are doing.

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