ESPN to Offer Third HD Channel in March

Sports fan magnet ESPN plans to unveil a third HD venue by the end of March—and like CNBC’s venture this month into HD—ESPNews will offer its HD content in a somewhat unorthodox manner.

ESPNews plans to slightly shrink its 16:9 viewing window to allow for a variety of HD-enhanced graphics (from text to headshots) around the bottom, left and top edges of the screen. The graphic areas on the sides will be marketed on-air as the HD channel’s “Sideline.” ESPN said its 16:9 HD edition will allow for more data being displayed, compared to the 4:3 version of its ESPNews channel presented in SD. The innovative graphics displays will also allow room for ads, ESPN said.

CNBC HD+ went HD this month and is opting to use a smaller 4:3 video window inside a 16:9 aspect ratio—like ESPNews using its borders to run text news and other graphics (see “CNBC HD+ Is All Business,” in the Oct. 17, 2007 issue of TV Technology.)

ESPNews HD said it currently has carriage agreements with Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and DirecTV.

The SD version of ESPNews has been struggling to find an audience—with an average audience (reported by ESPN itself) of slightly less than 70,000 households. (It says it passes 62 million households.) ESPN said the channel continues to make significant strides in audience size on a quarterly basis.