My view on the transition to DTV, and in particular HDTV, is very simple: It's inevitable.
To paraphrase Bill Gates, technology always takes longer to get here than we expect, but it always has a bigger impact than we expect, and HDTV will be no different.
There are a lot of people out there saying there won't be a transition. That there is no way we'll get to 85 percent in six years. My response is who cares. That may be the magic number for TV stations and the government, but in reality it's meaningless. HD will start having an economic and social impact on us long before that number is reached.
We are already to the point where it's a mistake for those purchasing a big-screen TV not to purchase one that is HDTV capable. The incremental cost for a satellite/ATSC tuner is falling quickly, and will continue to fall. Retailers are starting to realize this and for the first time are actively showing HD content on their showroom floors from channels like HDNet. Consumers are seeing this and coming to the realization that high-definition content isn't something that is way out there in the future.
They can enjoy watching HD here and now, with content from HDNet, CBS, ABC and some NBC, and they are buying HDTVs with tuners in record numbers. Most importantly, in those households, there is not a 150-channel universe. In those households, they will watch programming in HD over the middle of the pack programming of any other network.
The number of consumers in this category is growing, and will continue to grow. TV stations and networks that don't broadcast in high definition at its highest quality will be relegated to the furthest reaches of the remote controls, while those that do will reap the benefit of huge numbers in the expanding number of HD households. Long before we hit 85 percent, the ratings for HD-enabled networks will grow at the expense of the non-believers. The picture quality challenged will find themselves in an ongoing battle for a shrinking market in a world of expanding choices, while those broadcasting in true HD will reap the financial rewards.
Beyond the marketplace itself, the government should be ashamed of its efforts. To have the opportunity for a financial windfall for our nation and to be doing nothing to attain it is questionable at best. How hypocritical of our leaders is it to be talking about mandates, yet our government doesn't even support HD or DTV? Why do we not see C-SPAN in HD? Why do we not get feeds from the Rose Garden in HD? Why is government-originated programming not in HD? Any news organization can downconvert. When the government starts practicing what it preaches we will all see things happen a lot more quickly in our industry. Until then we should bring the hypocrisy to the forefront.
Mark Cuban is the founder of HDNet and owner of the NBA Dallas Mavericks.