Entertainment Goes Hi-Def

Sep 21, 2008  •  Post A Comment

TV personality and producer Byron Allen is jumping on the high-definition bandwagon in a big way.
Mr. Allen’s Entertainment Studios plans to create six high-def channels of original programming that will be carried by Verizon’s FiOS system starting in the fourth quarter.
Entertainment Studios bills itself as the largest independent producer of first-run syndicated programming, and Mr. Allen said the HD programming he’s creating for the new channels will be available to other cable and satellite distributors. He plans to put the programming online and transmit it to mobile devices in order to recoup what he said will be an eight-figure investment over the next 2½ years.
“There’s a race between three well-funded industries going for the same customers and they know that whoever has the most HD channels will win this war,” Mr. Allen said. “I’m the largest HD arms dealer out there.”
Launching multiple networks will create the kind of impact that could make a difference when a viewer is considering whether to get his television service from a cable operator, a satellite distributor or a telco such as Verizon, he said.
Additional HD channels can give FiOS a short-term advantage over cable competitors because capacity on some cable systems is currently limited, said Ian Olgeirson, senior analyst at SNL Kagan.
“It’s important for FiOS to be increasingly aggressive on the HD front,” he said.
But Mr. Olgeirson said cable operators argue that subscribers want to see the most popular 50 to 75 channels in HD, and that there are diminishing returns to adding newer or more obscure offerings just because they’re in HD.
Sight unseen, Mr. Olgeirson said, it was difficult to tell whether the new channels from Entertainment Studios will prove to be a draw.
Specialized Audiences
The six new networks are designed to go after categories that appeal to large but specialized audiences and to important advertising categories. The names of the channels also are their online URLs: Cars.TV, Pets.TV, Comedy.TV, Recipe.TV, MyDestination.TV and ES.TV, which is an entertainment news channel.
Mr. Allen said the agreement with FiOS pays his company subscriber fees for the channels. He also plans to sell advertising on the channels, and expects many of the sponsors of his syndicated shows, including “Comedians Unleashed,” to be sponsors. Those companies include heavy hitters such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Wal-Mart, Progressive Insurance, Johnson & Johnson and some movie studios.
At launch, Mr. Allen said, he expects each channel to have a four-hour loop of programming. Mr. Allen said he’s already begun producing programming in the 1080i HD format. He also has a 4,000-hour library of programming that could be used on the channels.
Mr. Allen’s syndicated shows, which he said reach between 25 million and 30 million people, will serve as a promotional platform for the new networks.
Mr. Allen said he’s not counting on people watching his channels just because they’re in HD.
He plans to make the programming engaging and passionate about the subjects covered.
Some of the channels, including Recipe.TV, Comedy.TV and MyDestination.TV, already face direct cable competition, but Mr. Allen sees room for more than one network in those areas.
“Nothing replaces anything. It’s additive,” he said. “I’m highly confident you wouldn’t mind being in a world with two or three food networks.”

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