Broadcaster,  October 2006

HD and Digital Adoption

Costly for Broadcasters

The conversion to high definition broadcast capability can cost up to $7 million for a large market station, $4.5 million for a small market station and $4.5 million for a specialty and pay service.

That's according to a research paper, produced as part of the Canadian Association of Broadcaster's (CAB) submission on the Canadian Radio- Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)'s fact finding process on the future environment facing the Canadian broadcasting system (Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2006-72).

The CAB examined the adoption of new technologies such as digital and high definition television by Canada's private broadcasters, and examined the associated opportunities and costs. The paper takes into account the regulatory environment for the adoption of digital and HD television, the opportunities and costs associated with the adoption of digital television and HD technologies by private broadcasters, regulatory and business environment around the adoption of new technologies, and the challenges that HD and digital pose to producers of Canadian content.

The paper notes that the costs of upgrading to digital/HD production and transmission are substantial for large and small market television broadcasters, as well as for specialty and pay services, and that at present, there is not any ability under existing business and regulatory models to recover the incremental costs in the marketplace.

This issue is particularly worrisome for small market television stations and for small and independent specialty and pay services, which face the same high costs of upgrading to HD with an even smaller revenue base to offset them. The paper, along with all of the research produced for the fact finding process, is available on the CAB website.

Nevertheless, several Canadian broadcasters, specialty services, content producers and program distributors are moving towards the high definition broadcast world, including:

High Fidelity HDTV Selects Specialty Data Systems

Toronto-based High Fidelity HDTV Inc., with four separate, state-of-the-art channels - TreasureHD, OasisHD, EquatorHD and RushHD - inked a contract with Specialty Data Systems (SDS) Inc. of Toronto, a leading provider of broadcast management software, for its unique broadcast management system.

High Fidelity HDTV chose SDS for its ability to consolidate and manage the data of each of its HD channels, and adapt the technology to the broadcaster's future needs. "We're very pleased to be working with an innovative Canadian company like SDS that can respond to our rapidly growing data management needs," said Ken Murphy, CEO of High Fidelity, Canada's leading broadcaster of high definition specialty television.

The SDS eBroadcast system is the first proven all-in-one broadcast management system, used by cable and conventional television broadcasters, and radio stations, in Canada and in the U.S. The system offers a unified approach to sales, traffic, programming, operations and accounting, enabling a two-way flow of data to be shared across departments and eliminating the need to re-key information or use paper. With the SDS system, users access information on-line in real-time, filtered and formatted to meet their particular needs, whether they're programming airtime, booking orders, scheduling promos, or producing sales and commission reports.

A key benefit of the SDS eBroadcast system is the broadcasters' ability to use its automated tools to maintain market share, increase revenue and reduce costs in a growing HD specialty channel environment.

Specialty stations in particular need to operate as efficiently as possible and reduce redundancies in order to succeed in an emerging and highly competitive market, a company representative explained. SDS's system actually enables specialty broadcasters to easily adapt to changes in the marketplace and use the technology to their advantage.

Established in 1993, SDS is a leading provider of broadcast management software, offering a unique unified, on-line approach to sales, traffic, programming, operations and accounting. SDS clients include such major broadcasters as Bell ExpressVu, CanWest Global, Alliance Atlantis, Impulse Media Sales (IMS), World Wrestling Federation Entertainment (WWE), Newfoundland Broadcasting System, Stornoway Communications, Fairchild Communications, and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

An independent Toronto-based high definition television production and broadcast company, High Fidelity HDTV Inc. was established in 2005 after several years of development. The company is currently developing many more non-fiction HD broadcast channels which will launch in 2007 and beyond to address the critical shortage of vibrant HD programming in the Canadian marketplace. High Fidelity HDTV's production company, Artefact HD Media Inc., is nearing the completion of its first HD series production. The 26 episode series, Collector Showdown, is currently being broadcast in the United States on Treasure HD and will premiere in Canada on Treasure HD.

Described John Panikkar, co-founder of High Fidelity HDTV, of the company offerings: "Our new channels Rush HD and Equator HD, together with our OasisHD and Treasure HD channels, make owning an HD television worth the investment. Nowhere else can you get as much true-HD programming which is all Canadian premiere, and all of it smart, refreshing and beautiful," he added.

Rush HD is a no-boundaries, no-limits adrenaline rush of the amazing things people will do to test their personal and physical danger zones. Rush HD redefines the action genre both technically and creatively, giving Canadian viewers the ultimate home entertainment and edge-of-the-seat experience.

Equator HD brings the world's most intriguing places and people into intimate and personal contact with the viewer, with exclusive stories of remote cultures, exotic geography and unique rituals and spectacles.

TSN Delivers Sports, News in HD

In September, when TSN launched the high definition version of its flagship news program, SportsCentre, it became the first Canadian broadcaster to deliver a daily newscast in HD.

The sports broadcaster followed up with a HD version of its daily 30-minute hockey magazine show, Molson That's Hockey, providing a one-two punch of news and information programs in HD.

Transitioning SportsCentre to HD represented TSN's single biggest commitment to High Definition and the latest strategic move for parent company CTV in its overall HD progression.

The SportsCentre studio show is delivered in HD, with select reports and highlights from the field in the same format. A dedicated HD server is used to record and edit available HD sports events and other HD highlights in the show. Over time, TSN says, the entire SportsCentre production will hit its target of 100 per cent HD.

With SportsCentre's Evening, Late, Overnight and Morning loop editions, TSN viewers have access to nine hours of SportsCentre in HD weekdays, increasing to 15 hours on weekends. Nearly 50 per cent of TSN's 24-hour broadcast day is now available in HD.

TSN's HD lineup in 2006 features 1900 hours of HD programming from 750 national and international games/events, offering more overall sports coverage, hockey coverage, Canadian and internationally-produced sports events.

"After months of preparation and development, we are proud to declare SportsCentre the first fully equipped High Definition newsroom in Canada," said Phil King, President, TSN. "Sports is the driving force behind the rise in popularity of High Definition television, and we will continue to invest the necessary resources to ensure we maintain our HD leadership role."

To facilitate the transition to HD, TSN significantly reinvested in its news operation with the design and construction of a new set, studio and control room - all HD-ready. In addition, a fresh animation package, along with new graphics, were introduced to complement the launch.

TSN subsequently announced its two-year extension for NBA broadcast rights in Canada, under which, all of the over 40 games acquired for the upcoming season will be broadcast in HD on TSN HD.

HD Gets Laughs at CBC

Two of Canada's funniest shows satirizing politics and everyday life are getting the high definition treatment.

The Mercer Report and Royal Canadian Air Farce are the first regularly scheduled CBC programs to air in HD.

Royal Canadian Air Farce, flying high with high definition since early October, now describes itself as Canada's first HD sketch-comedy series.

Originating at CBC Television's new HD studio in Toronto, and recorded digitally on tapeless servers, the long-running highly-rated comedy series is available in widescreen high definition (16:9, 1080i) over CBC's east and west HD transmitters, and throughout Canada on digital cable and satellite services.

For the population viewing standard definition television, Air Farce is shown in full-height "edge crop" style, similar to most U.S. network comedies and sports, with the wider picture available only in HD. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.

"The switch to HD is a major change in our production style," says Air Farce producer and star Don Ferguson. "It must be as dramatic a change as when television switched from black-and-white to colour in the mid-1960s." The show's sets were redesigned, the character's hair and makeup improved, and CBC's Studio 42 was completely upgraded with digital HD cameras and control room.

The CBC has been broadcasting in HDTV since March 5th of 2005; however the number of shows broadcast in high definition has been limited and restricted primarily to specialty programming.

Recently, the network increased the amount of HD programming with several high profile series such as Canada Russia 72, Hockey: A Peoples History and Planet Earth.

Its mobile truck has regular HD assignments, including Hockey Night in Canada, although the hockey schedule has a few holes in it. Of 81 games on the CBC HNIC schedule for the 2006/07 season, just 30 are in HD. Some of its popular double headers are also 'split-screen' -- the HNIC HD season began in HD, with the Toronto Maple Leafs traveling to Ottawa for the Senators home opener. But the second game, a western match-up, was in standard definition only.

Ron McLean, in addition to his gameday duties, will host the new Think Hockey feature, shot entirely in HD at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

Citytv Toronto News in HD

CHUM Television began broadcasting its Citytv Toronto daily newscasts in HD on Monday, October 2nd, marking another Canadian broadcasting first.

"CityNews at Noon", "CityNews at Six" and "CityNews at 11" now air in HDTV, as well as Toronto's #1 morning show "BT-BreakfastTelevision" and the popular daily syndicated lifestyle show, "CityLine".

The latest in its ongoing series of HD projects, Citytv describes providing the first HDTV signals to emanate from a Canadian broadcaster in January, 2003; producing in-house HD programming in June, 2003; and broadcasting the first HDTV concert in Canada, "Our Lady Peace Live in Alberta" in June, 2003.

More than three years later, the station says it remains committed to increasing its HD content.

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