CBS boosts prime time HDTV

A week after announcing that it will broadcast its NFL postseason games in HDTV, CBS has confirmed that it will offer even more prime time series in HDTV than last season.

"Our present intuition is that every one of our regular series shows will be produced in HDTV," said CBS Television Executive Vice President Martin Franks last week. He was speaking at an HDTV demonstration event at CBS' New York broadcast center, where Mitsubishi and Texas Instruments executives gathered to showcase Texas Instruments' new Digital Light Processing (DLP) projection technology. A selection of CBS hi-def programming was demonstrated on Mitsubishi's new $15,000 65-inch rear-projection HDTV set, which uses the DLP technology.

Although Mitsubishi has underwritten CBS' prime-time HDTV programming until now, the TV set manufacturer hasn't renewed its deal for the 2000 season. Instead, the company has indicated that it will focus on sports and special events. Various industry sources suggest that Mitsubishi will again sponsor CBS' hi-def broadcast of the U.S. Open tennis championships.

Mitsubishi Director of Marketing Bob Perry wouldn't confirm the U.S. Open deal, saying only that "we haven't ruled anything out." He did say that Mitsubishi will support "ad placements and some sponsorship" on CBS this fall.

What's clear is that CBS won't do HDTV without some sort of sponsorship, either through a direct subsidy to cover production costs or a big advertising package. Thomson is sponsoring CBS' hi-def NFL broadcasts, and the network is expected to announce new underwriting deals for prime time programming in the next few weeks.

"We're making money from our digital spectrum today," said Franks, adding that Mitsubishi's previous deal "helped plant the seed in Hollywood" by spurring post-production houses to install HDTV equipment. Now that competitive post houses have the gear, producing HDTV versions of shows has become much cheaper, he said. He also predicts that increasing acceptance of 24p HDTV technology will spur much more production and, hence, more HDTV broadcasts.