Tuesday, January 30, 2007

100 Channels of What, Exactly?

My forthcoming monthly (Dec 18-Jan 17) recap is extremely packed this month, and one story in particular deserves a bit of separate attention; DirecTV's announcement that they will have 100 HD channels by the end of 2007. Not capacity, actual channels.

Thanks to existing bandwidth constraints, I've been imitating a broken record in the "HD NETWORKS" section of the recap - month after month after month I've had to bemoan the agonizingly slow pace of new network announcements and launches. I guess I won't have that to worry about much longer.

Like most of you, I've got some questions about this:

* How are they going to get up to (or near) 100 channels? Their announcement listed existing HD networks A&E, National Geographic, NFL Network, Food Network, TBS (Atlanta area only at present) and the various premiums, as well yet-to-launch channels like CNN, USA, Bravo, Sci Fi, Weather Channel, History Channel, Cartoon Network, Speed, MTV and FX. (They also announced that they have agreements in principal with more than 70 channels.) However you count it, there need to be a lot more names on those lists.
Some have speculated that they may count multiple feeds (e.g. West, East et al.) of some channels towards the total. I would guess it would be a bit more likely that they would count all their HD RSNs. Even with that, there will be lots of intriguing new announcements if they make those numbers this year.

* How much more will this cost customers? With a larger and larger percentage of cable's top channels joining in, will people be allowed to save a few bucks by dropping some unnecessary SD?

* How will cable, FiOS and Dish respond? How much spare capacity does FiOS really have? Will cable have to finally make a clear choice between the future and the present (that most of their customers are still living in), or will new bandwidth-conserving technologies step in and save the day?

* Just as importantly, what is going to be playing on all these new channels? Will they be HD showcases, or more like TNT-HD? While I don't know what's going on behind the scenes, this Mutichannel News article gives the impression that a number of these channels aren't that far along. Are they even shooting current content in HD to prepare for the future? It can take years to build up a credible library of HD content. Given the difficulty in getting new HDTV owners to find their way to the HD channels in the first place, it would be a double shame for them to do so only to find a few great images floating in a sea of stretched upconverts.

Whatever the answers, it's going to be a lot of fun watching this all unfold.