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John Baird Scripps Network EVP Affiliate Sales and Marketing

Bandwidth Bind for Scripps, Other Networks

On June 30 Scripps Networks launched Food Network HD, its second HD network this year (HGTV HD launched in the spring). But while the on-screen content is mouthwatering, the vast majority of cable operators are facing a bandwidth crunch that leaves them unable to let viewers taste the content. EchoStar’s DBS system, Dish, carries both networks but Scripps has yet to reach deals with top MSOs, leaving distribution to smaller cable systems like Wide Open West in the Chicago, Detroit, Columbus and Cleveland DMAs, Buckeye Cable in the Toledo, Ohio area and Sunflower Broadband and Everest Connections in the Kansas City DMA. John Baird, Scripps Networks EVP, affiliate sales and marketing, spoke with B&C HD Update about the challenges and opportunities of going HD.

Q. How has the launch been going?

A. We have deals with Echo for both services as well as with Verizon and some cable operators. We’ve talked with everyone in the industry and nobody has told us not to launch them. But, ironically, they’ve been telling us they wish we would launch them later.

Q. Why is that?

A. The deals we have with telcos like Verizon and EchoStar puts a lot of pressure on them to carry it. So if we didn’t launch the networks they wouldn’t have that pressure. But we expect that by the first quarter of next year more operators will be carrying it. Right now HD households haven’t hit critical mass so until the first quarter there is no real need for them to add more HD networks.

Q. Given the bandwidth constraints are they concerned about giving Scripps room for two networks?

A. We aren’t getting any resistance because it’s two networks, because both are highly distributed and watched. The networks with the problems will be those that are less distributed or the fledging networks.

Q. You do have a deal with Dish. What has been the feedback?

A. The viewers love it. They tell us it is great to see other HD programming but that they like ours best.

Q. You aren’t simulcasting your SD networks. Does that make it easier for you to talk with operators about carriage?

A. There are advantages and disadvantages to the simulcast and non-simulcast model. Even with anHD set, people can see some pretty neat pictures on the SD network and still have unique programming on the HD channel. We haven’t gotten any negative feedback to the [non-simulcast approach].

Q. There’s also the question of whether you want to be on the basic HD tier or the pay tier. Where do you want to be?

We want to be on the most widely penetrated tier they have which is HD basic. And we’ll give cable operators some real good reasons to carry us.

--Interviewed by Ken Kerschbaumer