HDNet Girds for War In Higher Resolution

Philip Garvin's biggest headache last week was the battle to make sure one of his news crews had a foothold in the looming war with Iraq.

With potentially days or even hours before the possible launch of a United States-led invasion of Iraq, the general manager and chief operating officer of HDNet needed to find a place to station one of the network's news crews close by — so when the troops moved, so would HDNet.

It's all a matter of being in the right place when the action starts — and that is also what is driving HDNet these days.

Launched on DBS provider DirecTV Inc. in September 2001, HDNet is the brainchild of Mark Cuban and Garvin, owner of Denver-based Colorado Studios. The fledgling network, devoted to high-definition TV content, recently gained its first cable foothold through a deal with Charter Communications Inc., and Garvin said that has led to a better reception among other top cable operators.

"We are doing very well with some of the bigger MSOs," Garvin said, noting that major deals are likely soon.

HDNet is the first network devoted to around-the-clock HD content, fielding a mix of live sports events, concerts, news features and television series in the widescreen 1080i format. That may not be the case for long, as other networks delve into HD, but Garvin said he isn't worried.

"At first we were all alone out there, and then Discovery and ESPN came along, and now suddenly there is competition," he noted. But that's actually good for HDNet, because "it raised the total amount of HD out there."

Unlike other networks, which focus on archived HD content, HDNet nightly provides three hours of high-definition content not seen anywhere else. That includes news features and documentaries supplied by 14 news crews spread across the globe.

While live, breaking-news reports are often difficult given the hefty bandwidth needed to transport an HD signal, the high-definition format's sharp images and high-quality audio make it an ideal format for longer news features that can be edited and aired after a short delay.

That said, Garvin, his staff and HDNet face the same challenges as any other network news operation as an Iraq conflict looms.

After narrowly missing a chance to put a crew inside Iraq — even as other news agencies were pulling out of the country — the focus last week was on getting credentials to set up a base in Amman, Jordan.

Jordanian officials were handing out news credentials with an eye dropper, so Garvin and his staff were on pins and needles as they scrambled to come up with alternatives.

With so much attention focused on Iraq and Central Asia, and there is no lack of footage flowing from the region these days, Garvin noted.

"We have a huge commitment to film what's going on in the world," he said. "So there is just constantly stuff coming in."

Worthy shows

Another significant portion of HDNet's programming lineup consists of television programs that were shot in HD-worthy 35-millimeter film, or using HD videotape. That ranges from current shows such as Equal Justice
to classics like Hogan's Heroes.

Many of the TV shows HDNet has acquired are "broken shows" — series that aired for fewer than the 56-episode minimum needed for syndication.

There is also HDNet Movies, a channel introduced to Charter customers that offers titles from the Warner Bros. library, along with shorts and independent films. Elizabeth Flynn Glass, who helped establish the lineups at Home Box Office and Starz Encore Group LLC, has been hired as senior vice president of programming to expand what HDNet movies offers.

Given that HDTV is still in its nascent stages, a major focus for HDNet and HDNet Movies is to snap up the programming rights to as much high-definition content as possible, Garvin said. That will give HDNet a jump on the competition as other networks enter the HD hunt "and they find out, 'Oh, that already belongs to HDNet,' " Garvin said.