Saturday, August 19, 2006

30 Months and Counting: What's Changed?

Once again, it's the 17th, 30 months until the current "hard" date on which analog broadcasting is supposed to cease. Well actually, for the second month in a row, it's really a couple of days later (this time the culprit is a bad cold). This is the 5th of 35 planned monthly recaps of developments affecting the various players (laid out in my first few posts) in this story. When this deadline was announced, it was just about three years in advance of the date. This month, it's only two-and-a-half years away.

Before I break things down into my usual categories, you might want to check out this interesting "state of HD" overview from Multichannel News.

THE PUBLIC -There's a new survey on HD viewing from In-Stat, so here are two reports, each focusing on a different aspect of the mixed news this survey brings. HD Beat's story leads with the prediction that worldwide HD service penetration will grow from 15 million homes in mid-2006 to 20.3 million by the end of the year, while TV Week's report focuses on the fact that only 36 percent of HD set owners have HD service, and that the rapid spread of HD sets may mean that percentage might actually go down.

Meanwhile, there's yet another educational campaign announced, this time between CTAM and CEA. One of these days I'm sure I'm going to actually get to see an ad or spot related to one of these things. Something else that might help increase public awareness is a couple of new magazines cable companies may be distributing soon (check the comments section of this HD Beat story for my own wish list for a newsstand HD mag).

BROADCASTING - I still haven't seen any updates on one of the bigger stories two months ago, the struggle between broadcasters and cable over cable's wish to downconvert HD to SD digital broadcast after the analog shutdown. I'll try to be more proactive and see what I can dig up for next time.

Meanwhile a new network (focusing on English-language telenovelas and taking advantage of the opportunity presented by the surplus of indie stations created by the HD/UPN merger) is coming September 5th. MyNetworkTV will only be programming a couple of hours a day in the beginning, but those hours will all be available in HD - a broadcast first. Here's a TV Week report.

So how are the existing broadcast networks doing in converting the remainder of their schedules to HD? This TV Week story looks at the obstacles facing reality shows, while HD Beat brings us news of plans for Today and Dancing with the Stars to make the switch, as well as two pillars of the syndication market.

PROGRAM PROVIDERS - The Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing held a summit recently, and news began to be released on 7/17. Although its announced theme was "The New World", the only news release I saw that reflected directly on the themes of this blog was the announcement of that educational campaign I referenced in the PUBLIC section.

The biggest cable company (Comcast) continues to slowly roll out its HD offerings such as MHD (interesting at first, but of all the rerun-heavy HD-only networks, this one is by far the rerun-heaviest) UHD and NFL Network HD, with many regions apparently preparing to ditch INHD2 to help make room. In the less bandwidth-challenged areas, rumors are beginning to fly concerning National Geographic HD and Food Network HD as possible candidates for near-future additions.

Meanwhile, cable's competitors weren't exactly lying down on the job this month. Verizon's FiOS continues its march through nine states, and is trying to change the franchising rules in a number of places. They're also introducing their networkable Home Media DVR.

At the same time, AT&T's U-verse IPTV service is signing deals with just about every network you can think of it, including a bunch of HD ones, in preparation for their upcoming HD launch. An IP video service raises some interesting issues, such as how do you regulate it, like the Internet, or like cable?

Big doings in the satellite realm - DirecTV is finally debuting their HD DVR and Dish has a real problem with their DVR.

HD NETWORKS - Still haven't seen any formal announcements for new HD networks lately. In addition to the roll-outs mentioned in the PROGRAM PROVIDERS section above, Food Network HD took a major step forward with their addition to the Dish lineup.

As far as existing networks go, HD Beat recently commented on this TV Week article concerning various factors that make it hard for Universal HD to air current episodes of shows that debut in SD elsewhere, not that I'm complaining about their recent acquisition of Firefly. Also, if the rerun-heavy tendencies of all-HD networks pain you as much as they do me, you'll want to read this TV Week interview with Clint Stinchcomb of Discovery HD Theatre concerning his programming expansion plans.

MANUFACTURERS - TV Sales figures for the first 27 weeks of the year have been announced, and as you can see, analog and digital have almost exactly reversed their positions vs. where they stood the same time last year. Still no breakdown of "digital" into HDTV and SDTV. Still, flat-panel sales apparently aren't up to expectations, leading USA TODAY to predict another big round of price cuts. I'm not sure if this has anything to do with Best Buy's plans to bring out a house-branded 42" plasma for $1500, but that's definitely a new low.

However, CIO Magazine cautioned that the consumer benefit could be short-lived as manufacturers respond to the glut by slowing production. One unfortunate aspect of all this is that price pressures could make it impossible to even launch the highly-touted SED format.

In the NextGen DVD arena, retailers expressed frustration over less-than-expected sales, while Samsung offered an explanation for the less-than-expected picture quality of its Blu-ray player, and LG made the prospect of a way out of the format war seem even more remote.

Even though Blu-ray's superior studio support has yet to translate into a numerical advantage in titles, my August 16th entry made note of some intertesting trends in recent commercials, leading me to believe that at least the marketing is starting to get itself together.

GOVERNMENT - In everything I've been writing the last five months, the assumption has held that the 2/17/09 deadline is real ("this time for sure!"). My July 23rd entry deals with what may be the first leak in that dam.

Assuming that the transition still does go through, here's a story on the progress of the DTV converter box subsidy overseen by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. It's interesting to note that they are proposing to limit this to analog-broadcast-only households - a problem for people with one DTV (or connected to cable/satellite) set who still need boxes for their older analog sets (I suppose the thinking is that if you can afford more than one set in the first place, you can damn well afford the box).

That's all for the moment!


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