Nelson makes upgrade announcement

In his first public act as HBO’s permanent CEO, Bill Nelson announced that the company would be upgrading all of its nets to high-def by the middle of 2008.

Initiative, which is expected to cost in the tens of millions of dollars, will see the net offer HD programming on all 26 of its so-called multiplexes; those nets include HBO channels such as HBO Comedy and HBO Family and Cinemax nets such as ActionMAX and ThrillerMAX.

Only HBO and Cinemax offer hi-def feeds.

Many of the multiplex nets are driven by theatrical movies, a format that particularly lends itself to hi-def.

DirecTV is expected to announce today that it will be the first operator to carry the HBO nets in HD. HBO is in negotiations with other cable and satellite operators for similar deals.

Right now about 80% of HBO’s and Cinemax’s content is in hi-def; net expects a similar ratio across all its spinoff nets once the rollout is complete.

Eventually, net could offer all of its on-demand programming in hi-def, though HBO execs declined to comment on whether it would undertake such a move.

Execs at the net said its upscale-audience profile and reputation for improvements like on-demand were driving the move. “Our customers expect this,” HBO co-prexy Eric Kessler said.

With the cost of updating to HD sets and services still high, some consumers have been wary of HD, but Kessler said the net will make a big push to market the service. “When we launched on-demand we had to educate consumers on how they could access the value of it. We expect the same thing here.”

While nets like ESPN have invested heavily in hi-def programming, this move marks the most channels that one net has converted to HD.

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