Speed HD Launches With NASCAR Coverage

The Feb. 7 launch of Fox Cable Networks’ third 24-hour high-definition channel, Speed HD, is part of a much larger investment in new HD facilities that have allowed the programming group to expand its HD offering, according to Will Flannery, vice president of advanced services at Fox Cable Networks.

As part of that effort, Fox has expanded satellite capacity, inked long-term leases for mobile trucks, revamped its Los Angeles studios for HD production and built a multimillion dollar studio in Chicago for the Big Ten Network. It is currently in the process of building an HD facility in Houston that should come online in March and is planning to build a new facility for Speed.

Those facilities will allow Fox’s regional sports networks to televise 1,200 games in HD this year and will allow Speed HD to offer 100 hours of NASCAR racing this season and expand its HD on-demand offering.

On Feb. 6, Speed also launched a revamped Web site, speedtv.com, which will feature a 1024 x 768 wide-screen viewer.

Rick Miner, senior vice president of production and network operations, said the network began preparing for the launch of a 24-hour HD channel by producing in 16:9 aspect ratio last year, keeping a safe 4:3 box for its standard-def feed and by commissioning new episodes of its main original series in HD.

Prior to the launch of the full feed, it was also offering what Miner calls a “high-def light” channel with some of its programming to DirecTV.

“We’ve been planning for this for some time,” Miner said. “Besides the new productions, we can also use some of the library that was shot in HD and downconverted for airing in standard def.”

Speed produces much of its NASCAR coverage with remote trucks. Miner said Speed signed a long-term lease with NEP Broadcasting, which built a truck to the network’s specifications.

Speed HD also has access to Fox’s remote trucks, including the Game Creek mobile units that will cover some NASCAR races for Fox, and it shares trucks operated by outside vendors with ESPN and Turner, Miner said.

“One of the challenges of doing live HD production is the availability of facilities,” he said. “Everyone is doing this simultaneously and you have to get in line to get the equipment you need.”

Transponder space can also be tight, even though the Fox group has significantly increased capacity. “On any given night there are so many transponders,” Flannery said. “As games end on the east coast, they’re being used for games on the West Coast. Things can get very interesting if a game runs longer than expected or goes into extra innings.”

Miner is also talking to vendors about building a new facility and upgrading existing studios. “The studios that are not currently HD-capable will be fully HD within a year,” he said.

To launch the HD feed, Speed has added two satellite transponders and increased its fiber capacity. “With NASCAR there are significant motion issues and we have to make certain we have sufficient bandwidth to transport a high quality signal,” Miner said. “We do nothing at less than 18 Megabytes per second.”