Fox Gave Super Bowl a 'Wide' Viewing

A decade ago, when consumer-electronics executives were touting a pending breakthrough called high-definition television, the Super Bowl was repeatedly offered up as the kind of high-profile event that could showcase the enhanced format's benefits.

But to date, only two Super Bowl contests have been broadcast in HDTV: one by ABC and one by CBS.

This year, Fox Sports produced Super Bowl XXXVI for its digital broadcast stations in an alternative digital television format it calls Fox Widescreen.

Consumers needed a digital TV set, an off-air antenna, and access to an over-the-air signal from one of Fox's 27 DTV affiliates, including those in St. Louis and Boston. The digital coverage was not available over cable or satellite.

Thomson Consumer Electronics and its RCA brand sponsored yesterday's digital broadcast coverage of the Super Bowl in widescreen format.

Asked if consumers might be confused by the differences between the 480-P (progressive scan lines) format Fox used and the true high-definition format, which uses 1080-I (interlace scan lines), Thomson vice president of trade marketing Gil Ravelette said, "What the consumer really gets is widescreen."

To help spur HDTV sales, The Yankee Group analyst Ryan Jones argued, it's important to offer multiple improvements to a television format, such as picture quality, in addition to the widescreen format.

"If you disappoint the early-adopter by carrying less than top-tier programming, the potential for positive word of mouth goes down," Jones said.

The 480-P standard let Fox use a single set of cameras to produce the game for both digital and analog stations, providing identical coverage relative to announcers, camera angles and replays, Fox Sports spokesman Lou D'Ermilio said.

While HD Super Bowl coverage could have been showcased to wider audiences in bars, there really aren't enough consumers watching digital TV sets at home to make the question of 480-P vs. 1080-I particularly relevant, media analyst Bruce Leichtman said.

True HD aficionados didn't need to go without a sporting event on Feb. 3. In partnership with NBC, HDNet produced the National Basketball Association game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.

The digital broadcast was shown on local NBC digital stations and on the national HDNet feed available to DirecTV Inc. customers who have HD-compatible direct-broadcast satellite systems.

In an e-mail exchange, HDNet CEO and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said the network would not carry programming produced in 480-P, even if it were as high-profile as the Super Bowl. "We will offer 1080i only," Cuban said.

The Super Bowl "is just one event," Cuban added. "There are 364 other days of content that demonstrate the beauty and compelling aspects of HD. We can live without it."