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HD Look for 'Live'

Starting in January, Disney-ABC's Live With Regis and Kelly will join the ranks of other top syndicated shows in both first-run and off-net by broadcasting in high-definition.

“There's no downside to going HD, only an upside,” says Michael Gelman, executive producer of Live With Regis and Kelly. “We've been talking about it for ages, and we finally got it together.”

Unlike Warner Bros., which built a new all-HD studio to house Ellen, Disney-ABC had a relatively easy time upgrading Live to HD, Gelman says. The show, which shoots out of WABC New York, installed a new HD-ready control room last year and recently received its new Ikegami HDK-727 studio cameras and HDK-727P handheld cameras.

The new Live, complete with new HD graphics package, will premiere Jan. 5. “What better time to do this than right now? We thought it was great timing: New Year, new look,” Gelman says. “And we'll just be coming off some dark time during the holiday that will allow us to spiff up the set.” Live also created a contest for the viewer who could compose the best new theme song.

Unlike shows such as ET and Insider, which spent gobs of money on fancy new LCD-adorned sets, Live plans to polish up what it already has. “We were very lucky in that we use a lot of really rich textures and materials on the set that we already had,” Gelman says. “Oftentimes there are a lot of TV and theater techniques used in set building that only look good from a distance, but that's not the case with our set.”

While Live may be ready to flip the switch, most TV stations are not. The economic downturn has forced many stations to push back their plans to install hi-def distribution systems.

“If stations didn't have this already locked into a budget and the funds allocated, many of them have since found themselves cutting back or delaying whatever equipment purchases would be required to acquire syndicated property in high-definition,” says one syndication executive.

Since this summer, CTD has found that the number of TV stations planning to carry its shows in HD has increased just slightly in the case of some shows, and declined for others. At Warner Bros., 40 stations are carrying Two and a Half Men and Ellen, with Two and a Half Men's count up by only two stations since May. By the end of August, however, stations in the top 75 to 100 markets plan to have systems in place.

To receive syndicated programming in high-definition isn't simple. There are many ways to handle the process, but typically stations need to have HD recorders, playout servers and switchers in place before they can receive and distribute HD syndicated programming. And automating that process becomes even more complex, requiring software that can run between $5,000 and $20,000. In fact, it's far easier to pass through HD network programs than to ingest, record and play out HD syndicated programming.

Still, all nine of the ABC-owned stations that carry Regis and Kelly plan to offer it in HD. ABC-owned stations already carry Oprah, Wheel and Jeopardy! in HD. In all cases, the stations manually record a linear HD feed of a show off the satellite, play it back to check for quality control and then place it on a playout server. This process is labor- and time-intensive, says Dave Converse, VP and director of engineering for the ABC Owned Television Stations.

As Converse puts it: “Broadcasters are a little behind the curve on HD, but we're going to be pretty well caught up in the next calendar year.”