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Music to Their Eyes

MTV Networks (MTVN) launched the high-definition MHD channel in January and programs it in large part with music content from its siblings, including MTV, VH1 and CMT. One challenge: getting record companies to shoot videos in HD.

Since its launch, the network has built a library of hundreds of hours of HD programming; about 75% of it is long-form content, such as concerts and tent-pole shows like MTV's Video Music Awards.

“We started at zero, pretty much with no programming, and between the time we launched and now, we have created a library,” says MTV/MTV2 VP, Label Relations, Peter Baron. “To be honest, we're a little ahead of where I thought we'd be.”

With only about one-third of MTVN's music videos currently in high-definition, it has been Baron's job to represent MHD to the record labels, encouraging them to shoot videos in HD.

“I've sort of become the pimp of HD to the labels, educating them on the world of HD and on how the labels can easily create HD programming for us,” he says. “It's been a learning curve.”

One way around that is to have the artists shoot videos on 35mm film and then have the network post the videos in HD. The network has also worked with the labels to secure excerpted songs from their upcoming concert DVDs, giving MHD exclusive content and helping the labels promote their releases.

MHD also programs key concert franchises from each of its three networks, including MTV's Unplugged, VH1's Storytellers and CMT's Crossroads, as well as some European programming.

MTVN created an MHD studio on top of Vail Mountain in Colorado, but that facility is used mainly for shooting short interstitial segments in high-def—for example, VJs introducing concerts in HD.

The 24-hour network mixes content from MTV, VH1 and CMT throughout the day, rather than devoting programming blocks to each individual network. Its target audience is quite broad: a 12-48 age range, encompassing the various demos that its composite networks attract.

MHD plans to program itself with almost entirely music shows going forward, but it will run one unscripted MTV series; the upcoming Cheyenne, a reality show about a rising music starlet, is tune-heavy enough to cut it on the HD channel.

Although it faces an uphill battle in persuading labels to shoot videos in HD (and persuading consumers to buy HD sets), the network stands apart in offering music in the first place. Mark Cuban's HDnet has programmed concerts in the past, although Baron says its programming doesn't compare with MHD's offerings.

“When you look at the programming we're creating, shot in the MTV style with that pristine look, no one else is doing it the way we can do it,” he says. “Music is the next natural progression of what HD programming is about. We're making inroads and moving ahead and becoming that music source for high-def. There is no other [HD] music outlet with a branded strategy like we have.”