Cabler OKs deal for Cuban HDTV services

NEW YORK — Mark Cuban’s fledgling high-definition program package has scored a cable distribution coup, securing a carriage deal with the second-largest operator, Time Warner Cable, to carry HDNet and HDNet Movies as part of its nationwide high-def program lineup.

Though barely 4% of U.S. TV homes have high-definition TV sets, falling prices are expected to push penetration to around 10% by the end of next year.

HDNet already has carriage deals with satcasters DirecTV and EchoStar, as well as cable operators Charter and Insight. But with a 10 million-plus footprint, TW Cable significantly expands HDNet’s potential reach.

Time Warner package already includes high-def programming from all the major broadcast nets, as well as Showtime, Discovery HD Theater, NBA-TV and select Fox Sports Net regional sports networks. The new nets will join the high-def InDemand offering on its premium high-definition tier.

High-definition is one of the cable industry’s key pillars of new advanced service revenues, alongside voice-over-Internet, high-speed data, enhanced set-top boxes with digital video recorders and video-on-demand services. Such services are critical as the growth in new digital subs inevitably slows in the next few years.

40% digital penetration

TWC, which boasts digital penetration of 40% of its basic subs, is heavily pushing high-def as well as DVRs. Cabler has 185,000 HDTV subscribers and around 338,000 deployed DVR-enabled boxes. Some 98% of TWC’s 10.9 million nationwide customer base is capable of using high-def set-top boxes.

Comcast also is pushing its digital subs into premium reception, and so far this year has added 225,000 high-definition customers.

Both Comcast and smaller operator Insight claim many of their new high-def customers are new to digital cable, which implies these cable operators may be winning back some subs from satellite.

“Creating a premium HDTV tier is the next logical step as we continue to deliver on our promise to provide customers with the best in choice, value and control available for high-definition programming,” said Chuck Ellis, executive VP/chief marketing officer for Time Warner Cable.

Beefed-up high-def

Deal comes just a week after New York-area cabler Cablevision beefed up its own high-definition offerings in a bid to keep pace with satellite operators that are pushing the upgraded services as a point of differentiation. The Dolan family-run cabler last week announced plans to offer four new high-def versions of movie services Cinemax, Starz!, Showtime’s the Movie Channel and VOD service InDemand, thereby upping its roster of high-def channels to 11.

Two-year-old HDNet produces and televises original high-def programming, including concerts, news and select sports packages. Licensed programming includes series from Paramount, Warner Bros. and Sony.

HDNet Movies broadcasts 24/7 full-length feature films from Warner Bros., New Line, Paramount, MGM, Buena Vista, Lions Gate (in which Cuban owns a stake), Artisan and Sony Pictures Television. HDNet Movies also features movies produced and finished in true 1080i high definition.

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