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Reelz Channel Makes HD Upgrade

Cable network ReelzChannel, which delivers movie-focused programming to more than 50 million U.S. cable and satellite subscribers, launched an HD simulcast service last week and will shift to all-HD distribution this fall using MPEG-4 compression gear from Cisco.

The Albuquerque, N.M.-based network, owned by Hubbard Media Group, is relying on Ascent Media Group to uplink its new HD service to Intelsat’s Galaxy 17 satellite from Ascent’s Earth station in Stamford, Conn., as well as new Cisco integrated receiver/decoders (IRDs) to receive it at 160 headend sites. The Cisco ProVu IRDs can simultaneously output HD and SD, allowing ReelzChannel to quickly migrate to a single MPEG-4 HD feed, encoded at 8 Mbps, to support both services.

Ascent has been running the master-control operation for ReelzChannel's existing SD service on Galaxy 12 out of Burbank, Calif., but ReelzChannel recently built its own master control in Albuquerque so it can do live programming. ReelzChannel is now pumping its HD service from Albuquerque over fiber to Stamford, and on Sept. 1 plans to cease originating SD programming from Burbank, says Roger Eman, the company's senior VP of operations.

For a month, the network will take the HD feed from Galaxy 17, downconvert it to SD, and put it back up on Galaxy 12 to ensure no break in service for affiliates. By Oct. 1, Eman expects that the transition to the new IRDs will be complete, and ReelzChannel will turn off the SD feed.

ReelzChannel is also rolling out new MPEG-4 cache servers from Vigor Systems, the same company that manufactures the Pitch Blue box for HD syndicated delivery, to affiliates to allow them to insert localized HD interstitials such as movie promos. That system should be in place by November.