The Latest HDTV News

If the early numbers are any indication, HDTV will have plenty of support from the broadcast/production end of the media business. According to a recent survey conducted by SCRI International, Inc., more than 40% of broadcast and production facilities around the world have already purchased and/or expect to purchase HDTV production/broadcast equipment by the year 2000.

But what about the other 60%? Roughly half of those, or 33% of the total, answered "unsure." As a result, if some of them come on board (as the report predicts), the number of convertees in the next two years could exceed 50%. Fewer than 4% answered that they will never convert.

The results are part of the 1998 Mid-Year Industry Trends Report, which tracks broadcast and production engineers worldwide. Close to 79% of the responses were from the US, with around 12% from Europe and 8% from Asia. The results are broken down by industry: 28% from the TV/cable companies, 45% from video/film production/post houses, and the rest from other areas of the industry.

In other HDTV news, the possibility of special fees (around $10-$12/month) for HDTV viewers was raised by an article in the Washington Post last week. According to the story, broadcast executives from the major networks are talking with Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI) about these fees in an effort to pay for the extra bandwidth needed by the HDTV format.

Noting that the majority of TV viewers access programs via cable, the networks are hesitant to broadcast HDTV content over the air only to have it largely ignored. As a result, they are trying to negotiate deals with companies like TCI to provide HDTV signals along with "regular" channels via the cable systems.

Congress gave the networks large slices of free bandwidth to begin broadcasting digital signals by the end of this year. According to Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, "It wasn't the intent of Congress to give away the spectrum for HDTV, only to have consumers charged for the privilege of watching it."

On the other hand, cable companies will likely have to bump several channels in order to add HDTV to their service, which is why they want to charge customers who use it. Gigi Sohn of the Media Access Project asks, "Should cable operators have to carry two signals [the existing signal plus the digital one]? My take in the early years is no, certainly not if it means bumping C-SPAN off the cable system."