It’s been said that it takes 10 years for any truly significant, life-altering technology to take hold on a mass scale. There must be something to that theory because a major technology that has since reached critical mass is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year… high-definition television.
The science behind HDTV has been with us for many years, but it was in 1998 when HDTV sets first became available at retail in the US. Back then, it was the kind of novelty that excited only the true technology buff.
Gradually, though, as more programming became available, the appeal of 1080i and digital surround sound spread. Sales of HDTV sets were driven largely by word-of-mouth and rabid sports fans who wanted to see their favorite games in crystal-clear detail.
As the price of high-definition television sets began to move south, and as HDTV sets began outselling analog TVs, consumers began to clamor for more types of programming in HD. Distributors continued pushing ahead with digital advancement, recognizing that the genie was out of the bottle and HD would soon become the expected standard demanded by the TV viewing public.
Both cable and satellite responded to the new demand for HD programming by dedicating significantly more bandwidth to HDTV channels. More channels, including several of Discovery’s, launched HD simulcast services within the last year.
In just the first four months of this year alone, we’ve seen over 13,000 HD feed launches by both cable and telco TV headends across the country. And now that Blu Ray will be the accepted HD format for DVDs, there will be even greater momentum for HD adoption.
With HDTV becoming mainstream, I think we’re now coming into a new phase—HD 2.0, if you will. With more viewers of HD programming than ever before, the bar has been raised on the type and quality of content consumers expect.
At Discovery, we’ve built a strong following of loyal HD fans with programs such as "Sunrise Earth" and last year’s landmark series "Planet Earth," a program that became synonymous with HD. And viewers continue to challenge us to produce more—and more exciting—high def programming.
For example, next month, we’ll premiere "When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions," an epic TV event featuring priceless original footage from NASA’s own film vaults. Discovery transferred these jewels to HD for the first time, making this national historic treasure available at unprecedented resolution for future generations to experience and enjoy.
Nothing sounds or looks as good as HDTV, and programmers who saw its value early on and began building HD libraries are reaping the benefits today. Many companies, including our own, are shooting all of their new programming in HD. And they should.
HDTV is now one of the biggest selling points for cable, satellite and telco services.
It has transformed television as we know it.
Sure, the HD craze will end one day—when HD becomes so widely accepted and expected that SD goes the way of black and white TV!
But in the meantime, HDTV will continue to evolve, challenging programmers to create even better quality and more engaging programming across all genres.
So, sit back and enjoy the show. It only gets better from here.
(Bill Goodwyn is pres, domestic distribution and enterprises at Discovery Communications).