New Programming Abounds
WHYY-TV on Demand: On March 15 Comcast Cable announced that Philadelphia subscribers would be able to enjoy WHYY's public television programming via Comcast's "On Demand" service. The station is the public station first to be featured on the 24-hour access service, allowing1.9 million Comcast cable customers to access WHYY productions anytime they want. "'On Demand' gives viewers the ability to access movies and programming 24- hours a day with complete VCR functionality . . . Shows can be instantly paused, rewound and fast-forwarded via the customer's digital cable remote control, and select programs can be stored for up to 24 hours for repeat viewing. Over 300 hours of programming are available 'On Demand' at no additional cost as a service of Comcast Digital Cable," states a Comcast press release.
USDTV over-the-air subscription service: On March 16, US Digital Television, Inc. (USDTV), launched the first "over-the-air" digital subscription cable channel service in the US. Priced under $20 per month, USDTV broadcasts local, national and popular cable channels over-the-air in digital and high-definition formats using unused digital spectrum from broadcast partners.
USDTV's channel roster includes ESPN, ESPN 2, Disney Channel, Toon Disney, Discovery Channel, TLC, Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, HGTV, Food Network, Fox News, and STARZ! Now available in Salt Lake City and to be introduced in Albuquerque and Las Vegas in the next 30 days, USDTV will expand to 30 major markets by the end of 2004, according to the company. The service requires a special receiver, available at Wal-Mart stores and other retailers at $99, and a $20 monthly subscription fee.
Echostar's BingoTV: The direct satellite broadcast service hopes to snare the attention of channel-surfing ad-avoiders with its BingoTV. Blending entertainment and advertising, the weekly game show progresses as hosts hype the prizes available to winners. BingoTV lets players win prizes by spelling out "BINGOTV" on a 49-square card. Winners must call within two minutes to claim their prizes. The two-hour broadcasts each Wednesday evening are long infomercials that may be more effective than traditional 30-second ad spots, according to Echostar execs. BingoTV is available to subscribers of its DISH Network in 35 states.
NASCAR on HDNet: On March 15, NASCAR and HDNet announced a three-year partnership to deliver NASCAR's first high definition television productions. The deal features 15 live high definition telecasts, and a total of 18 races from the NASCAR Grand National Division, a tier of NASCAR regional racing series that includes the Busch North Series and West Series. HDNet will produce and broadcast the series in 1080i, according to a joint announcement. The series debuts Sunday, April 25, with the Busch North Series race at Lee USA Speedway in New Hampshire. The first West Series race to be broadcast in high definition is the May 1 event from California Speedway near Los Angeles.
The agreement calls for HDNet to broadcast 20 NASCAR Grand National Division events in HD in 2005, and 22 events in 2006, in addition to the 18 races in 2004. SPEED Channel, home to NASCAR TV, will re-air in standard definition the 18 races produced by HDNet, as well as several additional originally produced NASCAR Grand National Division events.
Fox sports in HD: By the third quarter of this year, Fox Sports should be delivering HD programming in the 720p format, according to an announcement made March 17. "Given the high-profile events that Fox Sports broadcasts later this year and beyond, the timing is perfect for us to begin our transition to the gold standard of high-definition television," said David Hill, Fox Sports Television Group chairman. "After extensive research and testing, it became clear that we wanted our viewers to have access to the sharpest sports images in the world, and without question, the 720p format produces those images."
Between July 2004 and February 2005, Fox Sports will carry NASCAR's Pepsi 400 from Daytona International Speedway, MLB's 75th Anniversary All-Star Game from Houston, playoffs and World Series; regular- and post-season NFL coverage including Super Bowl XXXIX from Jacksonville, and the Daytona 500. Not all of those events would be in HD, the network said. The exact schedule of events will be announced shortly.
Curiouser and curiouser: TV addicts with a yen for the unusual—or completely burned out on Friends—will appreciate Akimbo, a Silicon Valley startup specializing in obscure programming from around the world. Programming will include "short films that have been nominated for awards at the Cannes Film Festival or the Oscars; features from the Billiard Club Network; music videos from India; extreme sports documentaries; and the Naked News, described as 'the first Internet news program to present the news with nude newscasters, delivering international, national, sports and entertainment news together with health and fitness, movie reviews and in-the-street interviews,' as well as first-run movies from Nigeria, and videos on fishing for Walleye Pike," according to CNET's Michael Kanellos.
Akimbo will launch a set-top box and subscription service in May "that will offer a chance for home viewers to obtain programs and entertainment that they otherwise might not see on cable TV channels or networks," Kanellos reported March 19.