Dish Discovers Benefits Of HDTV Programming

Byline: jon lafayette

Three cable operators were on board when Discovery Communications launched its high-definition channel last week, but it was a satellite distributor that really put it into orbit.

EchoStar Communications’ Dish Network launched Discovery HD Theater, bringing high-definition nature imagery to a potential national audience. Meanwhile, the cable operators that have agreed to carry the channel – AT&T Broadband, Charter Communications and Cox Communications – face the task of slowly rolling it out on a market-by-market basis.

Discovery is one of the first cable programmers to offer an extensive amount of HDTV material to operators. The channel is being offered as a subscription service costing consumers $7.99 per month. Bill Goodwyn, Discovery EVP of affiliate sales and marketing, declined to provide specifics about how that revenue would be split, but generally, programmers and operators share the revenues equally.

The HD channel runs such nature and travel shows as When Dinosaurs Roamed America and The Mystery of the Alaskan Mummies produced in 1080i HDTV for Discovery’s five major networks.

“At 8 p.m. the family can sit together and watch Discovery HD, and it gives them a theatrical experience,” Goodwyn said.

Discovery is promoting the service both through spots on its existing channels and in its 167 retail stores, where the signal will be beamed in to monitors. “People don’t know what they don’t have till they see it,” Goodwyn said. “It’s really going to give you the wow factor.”

HDTV programming is especially attractive for satellite distributors because a better picture has long been part of their pitch, and with their technology, they can immediately roll out HD service nationally, Goodwyn said. About 2.5 million HDTV sets are already in households – a sizable pool of potential customers for Dish. And with prices of HD equipment coming down, that opportunity will only increase, he added.

“With this programming and retail-store partnership, we are speeding the nation’s adoption of digital and high-definition television,” said Michael Schwimmer, SVP of programming at EchoStar, in a statement. EchoStar also carries HD programming from HBO, Showtime, CBS and HD pay-per-view.

Cable operators, by contrast, have to solve issues of bandwidth and set-top equipment on a market-by-market basis in order to add HD channels.

AT&T is launching Discovery HD Theater in Chicago. Cox’s first HD market is going to be Las Vegas, and Charter plans to launch the channel in five markets.

“Discovery is one of the most popular cable networks we offer, and its programming is tailor-made for HD,” said Allan Singer, SVP-programming, AT&T Broadband, in a statement.

“We believe that with Discovery’s reputation for high-quality, entertaining programming, our HDTV customers will benefit immensely from what this new network will offer them,” said Diane Schneiderjohn, SVP of marketing and promotion at Charter, in a statement.

Goodwyn said cable operators “recognize that they can’t let those best-paying customers move over to Dish” and calls HDTV a “killer application” to drive digital penetration. More important, once customers have a media room with surround sound wired up, they’re cemented in to switch to satellite.

“It can become one of the greatest retention tools for cable against satellite,” Goodwyn said. “It’s going to be a fierce battle over the next couple of years till cable has really got HD everywhere. It’s going to happen; it’s just a matter of when and how fast.”

COPYRIGHT 2002 Copyright by Media Central Inc., A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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