HDTV Content Options In United States Growing

By | April 17, 2006 | Broadcasting, Europe, Feature, Telecom

High-definition (HD) TV has more than proven itself technologically, and according to industry analyst reports, HDTV will be in 52 million households by 2009, up from the current 4 million households. Northern Sky Research estimates that 500 channels will be broadcast in HD by 2010.

One of the few things hampering HDTV growth at the moment is lack of enough HD content, but more options are beginning to appear. Direct-to-home satellite operators DirecTV Inc. and rival Echostar Communications Corp. are ramping up their expansion plans to include more HDTV offerings, and Panamsat Corp. and SES Americom also announced new deals that will expand HD offerings across the United States.

DTH Providers Expanding Local HD Offerings

ViaSat Inc. received a contract from DirecTV to supply four antenna systems for use with high-definition TV services. ViaSat will provide four 9.1-meter Ka-band earth station antenna systems for uplinking HDTV services, which will enable DirecTV to expand its HDTV services over new Ka-band satellites, including the recently launched Spaceway platform.

As part of the contract, ViaSat will be responsible for system design, production, installation, testing and certification of the systems, which will be located at DirecTV’s Southwest Uplink Facility in Arizona.

"These systems will use high-performance Ka-band antenna technology already developed and successfully deployed by ViaSat for a U.S. government Ka-band program," John Zlogar, vice president and general manager of ViaSat Antenna Systems, said in a statement.

DirecTV is in the midst of also expanding its programming capacity for the transmission of hundreds of local and national HD channels, as well as new interactive and enhanced services in addition to its standard-definition programming. In February, DirecTV announced its plans to add local HDTV broadcasts in 24 more markets by the end of spring. The operator will begin offering HD programming from the four primary broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. The expansion will bring the number of local HD markets offered by DirecTV to 36 markets across the United States.

With the scheduled launch of DirecTV 10 and 11 in 2007, the operator will have the ability to deliver more than 1,500 local HD and digital channels and 150 national HD channels, DirecTV said.

"Expanding our HD programming is one of the cornerstones of our brand strategy to provide the best entertainment experience for DirecTV customers, and sets us apart from our competition," Romulo Pontual, DirecTV’s chief technology officer said.

Echostar trails DirecTV in local HD broadcasting, but it expanding its operations as well. In March, the company announced that its Dish Network will add Albuquerque, Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington, D.C. to its lineup, increase the total number of cities that can receive local HD programming on Dish to 12. Echostar also plans to expand its local HD services to cover more than 50 percent of U.S. TV households by the end of 2006, the company said.

Satellite Operators Also Offering More

Panamsat announced April 10 that it added National Geographic HD to its HD neighborhood. Fox Entertainment Group, which distributes National Geographic HD, signed a "long-term, multi-year, multi-satellite, multi-transponder deal" to consolidate its entire suite of U.S. programming, as well as a significant portion of its international traffic, with Panamsat. The contract also includes two additional transponders on Galaxy 13, the new home for National Geographic HD.

"By joining the A-list roster of customers on Galaxy 13, National Geographic HD will [gain] coast-to-coast coverage." Mike Antonovich, Panamsat’s executive vice president, Global Sales and Marketing, said. Panamsat provides HD broadcasts to more than 9,000 cable systems throughout the United States,

Separately, SES Americom signed a deal with Scripps Networks to launch the new HGTV-HD and Food Network-HD channels aboard SES Americom’s HD-Prime cable neighborhood. Scripps unveiled HGTV-HD April 10, while Food Network-HD is slated for launch in early July.

The HD delivery of both flagship networks is part of a strategic relationship between SES Americom and Scripps, which moved all of its networks, including Fine Living TV Network, DIY Network and Great American Country to the AMC-10 and AMC-11 spacecraft in 2005.

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