Although NBC’s hi-def coverage of the 2004 summer Olympics received low marks from the consumer press-some wags went so far as to call the Peacock’s 24-hour HD delay a "Greek tragedy"-it’s incontrovertible that the Games generated the most robust consumer exposure to HD in the US to date. With college football season having kicked off last weekend and the NFL campaign beginning Sun, it stands to reason that HDTV sales will continue to climb leading into the holiday season. No doubt that yesterday’s announcement from Bristol should help shift a few units as well. That ESPN2 will be available in HD starting in Jan-in time for the ’04-’05 NHL season, should the league manage to sidestep a looming labor impasse-could be a catalyst to get reluctant consumers to invest in a hi-def set. "Once they start to see and hear the things we’ll have available on ESPN HD and ESPN2 HD, it’ll be harder to resist getting the set," predicts ESPN strategist Bryan Burns. CEA’s Jim Barry agrees, but cautions that ops are going to have to do their part as well. "It’s not the amount of content, it’s whether cable and satellite companies are carrying enough of what’s out there," Barry says. "Sports are what drives this stuff. More than 12mln digital TVs will be sold this year, and the vast majority will be HD- ready." If sports are indeed the prime mover behind HD adoption, then carriage numbers are pretty much where they need to be in order for potential subs to gain exposure to hi-def. The 4 nets that carry NFL games (ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN) enjoy some of the highest HD penetration rates nationwide. A whopping 92% of cable systems in the top 25 US markets carry ABC in hi-def, followed by CBS (86%), ESPN (82%) and Fox (70%). (Discovery HD Theater, which boasts the most compelling non-sports hi-def content, ties CBS at 86% penetration.) All told, the 4 nets will carry around 175 NFL matchups in HD, more than 5 times the number of hi-def games available last season. While exposing a greater audience to the glories of HD should give sales and take rates a boost, there remain significant hurdles in the road toward widespread adoption. Customer confusion remains at high levels, says Scott Kipp, consulting analyst with The Diffusion Group. "By 2008, more than 40% of US HHs will own an HD-ready TV, but only 16% will be able to enjoy HD content-even when it’s given away for free," Kipp says. In other words, the vast gulf between awareness of the HD concept (87%, according to the latest CTAM study) and what the consumer actually needs to "get the picture" remains problematic. Next time: Cable ops reveal if the Olympics and the return of football have, indeed, driven subs to adopt HD, and CTAM shares results from its "Make It a Hi-Def Summer" promotion. Broadband Bits: Discovery will turn to N2 Broadband’s open standards-based "Xport" product to help carry out its VOD production. Xport grants content providers the ability to perform "1 click" encoding, as well as edit content, insert ads and create metadata. N2 counts HBO and the WWE among its Xport clientele, as well as Comcast and Time Warner Cable. — OpenTV and home networker Ucentric are pairing up to demonstrate their whole-home entertainment platform at this week’s IBC show in Amsterdam. The 2 companies are nearing completion of their 1st joint deployment with VOOM.

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