Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Five More Years (At Least) For Analog Cable?

It's been a slow news week for items meeting Switchover's criteria (highlighting major transition-related trends), but this one will make up for it.

One of the favorite things frustrated HD viewers like to speculate on is the timetable for cable's elimination of the analog tier (in order to free up bandwidth, natch). I've read numerous posts by people who would like to see that happen right now, regardless of the effects on the analog-viewing majority. Many more seem to assume that analog will die right around the time of the broadcast shutoff on 2/17/09. If you're one of those, get ready for some disappointment.

This Multichannel News article gives some insight into the thinking of the heads of both Comcast and Time Warner, and they are definitely not rushing this. Here's a telling quote from Comcast's Brian Roberts:
Asked if Comcast would ever get rid of the analog tier altogether or if in the future, the cable operator would always have some form of an analog tier, Roberts said that internally, company executives have debated that 20-40 analog channels would remain until at least 2011.

“It would be better if we don’t have to make the hard decisions like that,” Roberts said. “Let the consumer drive it. If we have to make a big bet and we get it wrong … ouch.”

While Roberts added that several technologies have great potential, for the meantime, the focus will be on rolling out Comcast’s digital-phone product.

Myself, I'm not too shocked by this. Any big business has to cater to the majority of their customers, and the enormous analog installed base requires a gentle hand with this. But 40 analog channels? That's a lot of HD channels we won't be seeing any time soon.


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