January was a good month for the future of high definition television. The manufacturers rolled out their latest wares to rave reviews at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The cable industry and the CEA announced breakthrough “plug and play” agreements, which will facilitate easier connectivity among HD components. NBC announced the pending creation of Bravo-HD, a high-end offshoot of Bravo, its latest cable network acquisition. CBS continued its tradition of airing the National Football League Divisional and Conference Championships in HD, and ABC delivered Super Bowl XXXVII in HDTV, a huge upgrade over last year’s disappointing 480p widescreen display by Fox.
Charter Communications recently agreed to roll out HDNet and HDNet Movies, the first cable deal for Mark Cuban’s high definition channels, which were previously only available on DBS provider DirecTV. ESPN-HD’s launch on March 30 will present Major League Baseball in high definition for its inaugural telecast. On the satellite front, DirecTV expanded its HDTV pay-per-view movie channel to full 24/7 availability, and EchoStar unveiled a concept whereby it could lease an HD monitor to customers who are otherwise unable to afford the high-end televisions. Even our neighbors to the north got in on the action, as CityTV in Toronto presented its first HDTV program, also a first for the Canadian broadcast industry.
Back here in the states, RCA and Zenith Electronics are sponsoring HDTV programs on the broadcast nets, while Sears and Samsung’s partnership with CBS brought us College Football in HD this past season. And, in a stunning display of post-retirement efficiency, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana can be seen hyping the virtues of Mitsubishi HDTVs in, yes, a TV commercial that was produced in HD!
Later this month, CBS will present the 45th Annual Grammy Awards in HD and 5.1 surround sound, with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament following in March, and the Masters Golf Tournament in April. Meanwhile, ABC has announced that the Academy Awards telecast, to be broadcast on Sunday, March 23, will for the first time be televised in high definition. ABC also plans to air the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals in HD...while Monday Night Football will once again be broadcast in 720p format during the 2003-2004 season, after a two-year HD hiatus.
Are you still denying the impact that HDTV will make on our industry? If so, you can put this magazine down, stare out the window, and reflect back on “the good old days” of the past. High definition is for real, and somebody’s making money off of it. The bigger question is this: How are you going to profit from HD’s growing presence? The answer is to embrace the HD early adopters, and recognize them for what they’re worth: a lot of money!
Let’s look at how our business has sold access to our most valuable audiences. In the past, ad sales execs would whip out a number of research sources in an attempt to position their station, or a particular program, as being upscale. “We’ve got all the upscale viewers,” one would say. “Look, The West Wing boasts an average household income level of more than $70,000...isn’t THAT where you want to be, Mr. Upscale Advertiser?”
There’s nothing wrong with that approach. However, even the most upscale programs are eventually canceled (except for Meet The Press, of course). Affluent viewers on the other hand, are one of the advertising community’s most desired demos…and with HDTV prices still in the $2,000-plus range for the set and tuner, HDTV owners are the new “upscale” demo.
Let’s marry these subjects together and cash in. Is your station in a position to sell a separate ad schedule during your HDTV programs? Here’s why I ask: HDTV set owners will watch almost anything in HD first before settling on a regular analog program. Yes, I’ve watched Hack in HD on CBS this season. I’ve spent a Saturday afternoon on the couch watching HD college football featuring two schools I could really care less about. And yes, I’m more inclined to turn on Smart Travels With Rudy Maxa rather than an umpteenth rerun of Seinfeld. The fact is, I can live without grainy, ghosting NTSC video, and more and more of your viewers feel the same way I do.
If you don’t agree with my observation, go read the HDTV posts on the AV Science Forum at www.avsforum.com. You’ll find that the people there are passionate about television and their home theater systems. Frankly, our business could use more people like that!
In today’s multichannel universe there’s an ongoing battle for viewers and for revenue. Who will profit the most from the growing HD trend? The answer is as clear as its 1,080 lines of resolution: You’ve got to be in it to win it.
Jeffrey Ulrich is a member of the sales team at WHEC, Rochester, NY. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the position of HBI, Inc. He can be reached through his website www.hidefjeff.com or at: firstname.lastname@example.org.