BY SHIRLEY BRADY
NBC Cable president David Zaslav is ramping up for the July 31 launch of Bravo HD+, which will feature about 50% acquired programming. The balance will be Bravo content such as The West Wing and Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai in hi-def. “We’ve spent the last seven months acquiring content that we think will be exciting to look at in the HD format and will also be true to the arts and culture niche of Bravo.” With more than 55 million U.S. households now passed by a cable system offering HD, and with NBC’s television assets at his disposal, Zaslav is also planning for HD’s future. “The numbers may be small right now, but all the trend lines are pretty aggressive in terms of rollouts,” he adds. “As the numbers and scale continues to roll out, we’re looking at all of our properties, [including] Telemundo and mun2.” Despite the monumental production costs involved, Zaslav is “seriously considering” a standalone HD service for the 2004 Summer Olympics from Athens “due to the excitement of the [cable and satellite] distributors … The cost would be high, but the benefit to the consumers and distributors is also high.”
• • • With over 55% of its prime-time programming now originating in HD, Showtime must be making Viacom president and COO Mel Karmazin — who called his company “the poster child for HDTV” at the recent NCTA show in Chicago — very proud. “Viacom decided they want all prime-time original programming in HD, so we decided whether shooting long-form or shooting movies, we would shoot on 35mm and then broadcast in HD while we would shoot our series in HD,” says Showtime Networks EVP of production Michael Rauch. “Normally [our series] were shot on 16mm, but they look so much better in HD. Three years ago we shot our first movie The Red Sneakers in HD, and the difference technically between then and now is incredible, in terms of the cameras, how much easier it is to use and the understanding. The technology has gotten better and the costs have come down considerably.” The challenges? “You have a much bigger depth of field and everything is crisp, you see everything,” says Rauch. “On film you could get away with painting sets and so on but in HD you can see all that, so it’s a big challenge to art directors, designers and makeup and hair people. But our crews have been incredibly enthusiastic and they’ve readjusted to make it work.” Having just shot the new season of The Chris Isaak Show and Showtime’s Sept. 11 tribute movie, DC 9/11, in HD, Rauch is now overseeing the HD production of upcoming series The L Word in HD. New series Dead Like Me and Out of Order can be seen in hi-def on Showtime HD in July. • • • Discovery is holding a high-definition production tutorial in London this week and is planning an East Coast U.S. session as part of its efforts to help generate more HD content. Last week Discovery presented its “Producing for Discovery HD Theater: An Essential Guide to Program Delivery” seminar to producers at Sony Studios in Los Angeles. Discovery recently greenlit HD production for a documentary to run later this year: The Boys of Company H, about the Marines who fought in World War II’s Battle of Iwo Jima. • • • “A couple of years ago it was difficult to get anyone to listen to me when I was espousing HD, as all operators wanted to talk about was VOD and SVOD,” says Fox Sports Networks president Bob Thompson. Not anymore. He’s now expanding on his early HD experience with HDNet — which piggybacked HD production on Fox Sports Net games — by offering local HD games on Fox’s owned and operated regional sports nets. “The operators have spoken and HD programming is what they’re looking for, and local games in HD will be among the most popular offerings they have.” With Time Warner Cable on board for the fall and Fox Cable EVP of affiliate sales Lindsay Gardner in talks with other MSOs, Thompson is now firming up details for Fox Sports’s HD games. “With NBA and NHL just finishing their seasons, we don’t have any schedules yet for how many [games] and where we’ll be doing HD,” he says. “Production facilities are the biggest issue: It really becomes a chessboard in terms of trying to get production facilities to the right cities at the right times, given that there are so few of them out there at this point.” Not that he’s ignoring VOD. “We’ve done some VOD tests and we will continue to do so in the future,” he says. “We’re trying to figure out what’s the right amount of programming and what’s the economic model.” • • • With its new HD package featuring HDNet, HDNet Movies, ESPN HD and Discovery HD Theater launching July 1, DirecTV last week broke new TV spots by Deutsch’s L.A. shop. Each of the three 30-second spots features a different actor — Danny DeVito, Laurence Fishburne or Andy Garcia — reading a single letter from a satisfied customer. DeVito’s spot, “Lies,” tackles the claim that TV reception isn’t as good on satellite as it is on cable.