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All HD All the Time

Certainly, HDNet and sister HD Movie Net do not have the brand-name cachet of ESPN HD or Discovery HD Theater, or the same built-in programming pipeline. But Internet entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who launched the two networks, figures he's well ahead of most of his cable competition.

Whereas some channels mix HD and standard-definition programming, on HDNet, everything is HD, says Cuban, also the outspoken owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. "We don't have to serve two masters from an ad perspective or production perspective. I can leverage HD to its fullest extent."

HDNet's original programming ranges from sports and news to music and entertainment. The network carries National Hockey League games and Major League Soccer, along with some Division I college football and basketball. New series Hollywood HD,
with the latest entertainment news, is produced entirely in high-def. On Sunday nights, the channel licenses concerts featuring big-name acts from James Taylor to Jay-Z. Half-hour news show HDNet World Report, which goes in-depth on subjects like the Iraqi war or wildfires, airs twice weekly.

The network has two HD trucks for sports and an HD flyaway satellite for HDNet World Report. Even ads on the network, from such companies as Budweiser, Zenith and Sony, are high-definition or upconverted to HD.

Early on, HDNet sometimes partnered with other programmers to distribute their content in high-def. Most notably, HDNet carried delayed telecasts of the 2002 Winter Olympics from NBC. Cuban says he had brief talks with NBC about airing the 2004 Athens Summer Games, but they went nowhere. Though open to sharing windows with other programmers (as long as he has the exclusive HD rights), Cuban would rather focus on HDNet's own programming.

The channel has carriage deals with major operators Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Adelphia and Insight Communications, as well as with DirecTV and EchoStar. That leaves Cablevision Systems, Cox Cable and industry behemoth Comcast Cable still on the sideline.

The operators that carry HDNet typically offer it as a premium HD service. That makes it difficult to quantify HDNet's actual distribution, although it is believed to reach about 1 million homes.

Still, like any cable network, Cuban's HDNet needs acquired fare to feed its 24/7 schedule. There are some movies, mostly slightly older titles like The Shawshank Redemption
and The Bonfire of the Vanities. And HDNet has license deals with big TV studios, including Paramount, Warner Bros., MGM, Universal Television and Sony. "We can write checks like everyone else," Cuban says. "We're not capital-constrained."

The trouble is, there isn't much for HDNet to buy. Many shows are shot on tape, rendering them useless by Cuban's standards. He has been buying a few things, like off-Showtime Odyssey 5, which starts on HDNet next month, and, come March, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, which ran on Fox.
The channel also runs some TV classics, like Charlie's Angels
and Hogan's Heroes, which were shot on film. Programming shot on film, typically 35 mm, can be upconverted to HD and, by Cuban's assessment, look pretty good.