Several years ago, Showtime Networks president Matt Blank was speaking at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention, extolling the prospects ahead for cable, including HDTV. After listing movies and sports as programming people would want to watch from cable networks, Blank, in his usual comedic style, opined he wasn’t sure people were ready for cooking shows in HD.
Oh, how times have changed. By this summer Scripps Networks plans to launch both Home & Garden Television and Food Network in HD, with the added caveat that all its programming will be native HD. No show will be upconverted from standard-definition to HD.
Burton Jablin, senior vice president of content at Scripps, was in the National Show audience that day, and remembers Blank’s jibe.
For Jablin, and Scripps, it’s all about connecting with a particular audience. “Food and HGTV have a lot of audience members who love them,” he says. “So if you love these networks and you discover HD, wouldn’t it be human television-viewing nature to say I want what I love in the best possible way to watch it? That’s the rationale for launching the networks.”
Indeed, in consumer surveys, HD viewers often say it’s nearly painful to watch non-HDTV content. Many tell stories of watching anything, even if they aren’t particularly interested in the topic, just because the picture quality is better.
The current lineup of HD networks is dominated by broadcast network programs, sports and movies, Jablin says. “There’s isn’t a lot of what our viewers have an attachment to, especially women,” he says. “There is virtually nothing in the lifestyle category. For women, we’re providing an option.”
HGTV HD is set to launch by the end of the first quarter. Among the current shows on HGTV that will be in HD are Design Remix, Decorating Cents and Designer Finals.
Food Network, with such shows as Good Deal With Dave Lieberman, Sugar Rush, Unwrapped, Everyday Italian and Paula’s Home Cooking, will be rolled out in HD by the end of the second quarter, Jablin said.
In total, Scripps is committing to 700 hours of original HD programming this year, Jablin said.
The conversion started several years ago. Scripps already has hundreds of hours of HD content in the vault, having shot most of its major shows in the format over the past few years.
“Both networks will have content in true HD,” Jablin says. “We’re not going to upconvert any of our programs.”
There will also be a smattering of HD shows from the Scripps-owned Do It Yourself and Fine Living networks that fit the Food and HGTV categories and will make their way to Food and HGTV’s HD versions.
Jablin said Scripps is close to affiliate deals with cable distributors and direct-broadcast satellite providers. Channel space, he says, is not a problem: “It’s all about the deal.”
The cost is largely minimal, he says. The company is building an edit suite in HD to handle interstitial programming. Most of its programming is produced by outside vendors, who’ve already made the switch to HD. “We ask them to shoot in HD,” Jablin says. “Nearly everyone has HD equipment.”
By filming in HD for several years, Scripps has been able to work out the kinks, Jablin says. “There has been a technical investment, but it’s been very, very small.”
The main incremental cost is in programming, he says. “We’re doing this with very little additional staffing.”
According to Jablin, heavy marketing will probably come in 2007. “Job one is to get it up and running and job two is to make sure somebody will be able to access it,” he says. “We will begin to promote it using our Web sites and our networks to a degree. We have to be reasonable about the number of people who will have access to it in the first year. The second year, assuming things ramp, you’ll see a more aggressive on-air promotion.”
BULLISH ON ADS
Jablin believes the networks could draw HD advertising. He said Scripps ad sales department is optimistic, because ads are being made in HD, but there is no HD home for some advertisers. That’s why Scripps built an HD editing suite into which advertisers could place spots.
So what is Jablin looking forward to in HD? “It all looks great,” he said.
But one show that will likely benefit is the new series World’s Most Extreme Homes. “It was shot in HD from very beginning,” Jablin says. “And some of these homes are so bizarre.”
What would Matt Blank have thought about that?
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