HDTV Present: a PPV Channel

As the high-definition television market launch celebratesits first birthday, the infant is still taking its first baby steps towards consumeracceptance.

Recent programming initiatives by major broadcast networks,including additional digital broadcasts of CBS primetime shows and high-definition MondayNight Football NFL games on ABC have helped spark new interest, if not mass-market demand.

DirecTV Inc. last week announced that its second channeldedicated to HDTV will launch today (Nov. 1). The nationwide direct-broadcast-satelliteservice will devote the additional channel to pay-per-view movies selling for $4.99 each,rather than the $2.99 it charges for an analog-format PPV movie.

Home Box Office's East Coast HDTV feed is DirecTV's firstHDTV channel. Both are broadcast from the 119 degrees west longitude orbital spectrum andrequire receiving equipment separate from DirecTV's core system.

PPV movies to be aired on the new DirecTV channel withinthe first three months include Forces of Nature from DreamWorks Pictures (starring SandraBullock and Ben Affleck) and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me from New Line Cinema(starring Mike Myers and Heather Graham).

To date, dealers have sold about 66,000 digitaltelevisions, according to the Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association. One industryexecutive estimated consumer sales would total 80,000 by the end of the year.

Whether that's seen as a good first step or a sign ofmarket malady depends largely on perspective.

Recent consumer polls indicate that average TV owners havelittle interest in paying $5,000 to $10,000 for a new TV set, and predict the transitionfrom an analog to a digital broadcast standard is doomed to fail.

But those close to the television industry aren't ready tothrow in the towel just yet.

"It's way too early to say it's never going tohappen," said DirecTV senior vice president of programming Stephanie Campbell.

Michael Petricone, director of technology policy for theCEMA, said the methodology used in many of the recent consumer polls on digital televisionis flawed, because the surveys are conducted by telephone and don't give people the chanceto experience HDTV first-hand.

"It's an inherently visual experience," he said.

With manufacturers now shipping additional newdigital-television models to stores, more consumers should start to notice the displays,leading to greater visibility for the category.

"It's been a slow build-out for us," Best BuyStores senior buyer for digital television Allen McClard said. The chain just recentlybegan stocking all of its stores with three to six digital televisions.

McClard said greater consumer awareness, along with theavailability of more digital television models and increased HDTV content, has helped todrive sales exponentially each month.

But not all early adopters are waiting for HDTV programmingbefore buying digital television sets. McClard said improvement in picture quality isdriving sales even in areas where local broadcasters haven't introduced HDTV signals.High-definition sets have particular appeal for digital video-disc players, he added. MCN