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View topic - Cable to Satellite...

Cable to Satellite...

This forum is geared towards Satellite Receiver and Sony Hard Disc Video Recorder

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by -W- » Mon Jun 02, 2003 2:02 pm

Greetings Agoraquestrians:

Interesting read from the San Francisco Chronicle...

Battling over HDTV
Comcast takes on satellite companies with new high-definition service
Todd Wallack, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, June 2, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/06/02/BU47753.DTL

Let the HDTV wars begin.

In an effort to slow down defections to satellite-TV providers, Comcast Corp. plans to begin offering high-definition television to roughly half its cable customers in the Bay Area starting Tuesday -- allowing viewers to see images six times crisper than on standard TV.

Comcast says customers with HDTV-ready sets can get the service for $5 per month, allowing them to initially watch up to three local stations in HDTV. Showtime and HBO subscribers will also be able to watch another version of the channels showing selected films in higher-quality video.

"You have to have (HDTV) to compete in the video space," said John Vonk, a vice president of sales and marketing for Comcast's Western Division in San Ramon. "It's as significant . . . as going from black-and-white to color."

Though only a few hundred thousand U.S. subscribers now watch HDTV, analysts expect the market to explode in coming years. HDTV-friendly sets are rapidly becoming available for less than $1,000. And the Federal Communications Commission has mandated that all TV sets be ready to receive HDTV signals by 2007.

Some HDTV programming is already available on local broadcast stations. And both EchoStar's Dish Network and Hughes Electronics DirecTV, the two largest satellite-TV providers, have offered HDTV packages to customers for years.

But the Comcast move is important because two-thirds of viewers still get their television via cable. And in the Bay Area, that mostly means Comcast. The cable giant has locked up franchise agreements with cities covering 90 percent of the region's population and has 1.6 million TV subscribers in the area.

It also marks the latest effort by Comcast to head off competition from DirecTV and Dish Network, which have made steady gains in market share nationwide during the past decade and regularly tout the quality of their picture signals. By some estimates, satellite players have scooped up between 16 percent and 18 percent of the Bay Area market.

"Every new service that cable offers today is done in part to stem the tide of subscriber losses to satellite," said Jimmy Schaeffler, chief executive of the Carmel Group, a Monterey research firm.

Even before Comcast made its HDTV plans public, aficionados were abuzz about a possible start date. Comcast said it receives queries about it almost daily. And about 5 percent of Bay Area TV viewers have an HDTV-ready set, Vonk said, more than the national average.

"If I can get it in my neighborhood, I'll sign up for it (this) week," said Frank O'Connor, a San Francisco resident and executive editor of Official Xbox Magazine. "I have the hardest . . . time getting an HD signal (over the airwaves). I constantly have to twiddle around my rabbit ears."

O'Connor said he would have switched to satellite long ago to get HDTV, but his condo association won't allow him to install a dish.

"Everyone I know with an HD (TV set) has switched to satellite," O'Connor said. "It seems Comcast has finally gotten smart about it."

Comcast says it has already seen some impact in its hometown of Philadelphia, where it began the service two years ago. For instance, Vonk said the number of customers signing up for satellite TV service at Best Buy dropped by roughly half after the electronics chain started carrying Comcast's HDTV equipment alongside the satellite dishes. Comcast hopes the HDTV service will help boost its retail presence in the Bay Area as well, Vonk said.

The two biggest satellite TV providers brushed aside the Comcast threat. DirecTV, for instance, points out that it first beamed HDTV signals to the Bay Area in 1998.

"They are Johnny-come-latelies to HDTV," DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said.

And while satellite is available nearly everywhere -- except a few homes shaded by mountaintops and trees -- Comcast says it will initially be able to serve only about 800,000 customers. It hopes to upgrade most of the remaining homes by the end of 2004.

Of course, people with HDTV sets can already get high-definition broadcasts of local stations for free throughout the region. But that requires a special HDTV tuner, which can run several hundred dollars. And some viewers complain that HDTV signals are harder to pick up than standard TV. That could be a particularly vexing issue in the hilly Bay Area, Vonk contends.

But KQED executive John Boland said no one knows for sure because so few people own HDTV sets and tuners today.

"While most of the people who can currently get KQED's analog signal can get our digital signal, we don't know how many cannot," said Boland, the station's chief content officer.

DirecTV and Dish Network pose a different problem: Customers generally need to buy a special dish and receiver to pick up the HDTV signals.

Mercer estimated DirecTV customers must pay between $400 and $1,000 for the package, though some refurbished equipment might be available for less on the Internet. The Dish Network equipment costs $600 to $700, according to a customer service representative.

There also are some differences in programming.

Comcast, for instance, is emphasizing its local programming. HDTV subscribers will initially be able to receive KGO (the local ABC affiliate), KNTV (NBC) and KQED (PBS). KGO and KNTV will simulcast digital versions of their regular broadcasts (with a mixture of HDTV and standard-quality programs), while KQED will offer a separate all-HDTV stream between 8 p.m. and midnight. Comcast is still negotiating to carry local CBS programming in HDTV.

Neither Dish nor DirecTV will carry any Bay Area HDTV feeds. But they do carry both Showtime and HBO -- plus several national stations that Comcast lacks.

For instance, both DirecTV and Dish also offer the NBATV channel and pay- per-view movies in HDTV.

DirecTV also offers its own HD channel, called HDNet. And Dish offers CBS feeds from Los Angeles and New York. And for $8 more per month, Dish also offers an HD version of the Discovery Channel. Eventually, Dish says, it will be able to offer 50 HDTV stations.

"Satellite has been a leader in high-definition TV," said Michael Schwimmer,

a senior vice president of programming for Dish.

And Schwimmer said that customers can use the satellite HDTV receiver to tune in to local HDTV stations (via an antenna), which Schwimmer argues negates Comcast's advantage.

Either way, Comcast and the satellite-TV providers are now using HDTV as a weapon to try to win over subscribers.

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