Cable Tech

Comcast Media Center Unveils HD Six-Pack

The Comcast Media Center (CMC) has hooked up with SES Americom on a high-definition television (HDTV) package tailored for HITS Quantum cable affiliates.

Initially, the CMC's HITS Quantum service will offer six linear hi-def nets: A&E HD, HGTV HD, Food Network HD, National Geographic Channel HD, Starz HD, and Universal HD.

The hi-def HITS offering has emerged as cable operators, particularly smaller ones, come under significant competitive pressure from sizeable HDTV offerings from the likes of EchoStar Satellite LLC and DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), which expects to offer 100 hi-def channels by year's end.

To date, three operators -- Adams Cable TV (Waymart, Pa.); Cablevision of Marion County (Ocala, Fla.); and MTC Cable (Margaretville, N.Y.) -- have launched the new Hits HD service to customers.

Another 12 operators also have agreed to carry the package but have not yet launched it. Some operators in this latter group include Baldwin Telecom Inc., CenturyTel Televideo Inc., Eagle Communications, Merrimac Communications Ltd., Orbitel, and Spencer Municipal.

Under the arrangement with SES Americom, HITS Quantum will pipe channels to affiliates after sourcing the hi-def nets from AMC-18, the latest bird to join SES Americom's HD-Prime service. Other satellites in the HD-Prime fleet include AMC-1, AMC-4, AMC-10, and AMC-11.

HITS Quantum delivers north of 200 digital video and audio services, including more than 50 standard-definition channels, to roughly 200 cable MSO affiliates. Some operators are tapping it to support digital simulcast strategies in which channels offered in analog are also distributed in the digital tier. Others are using the HITS service to move channels to the digital domain and reclaim analog spectrum.

Although a menu of six HD networks is not a large offering by today's standards, the CMC is looking to increase that number.

"HITS continues to seek additional HD channels to expand the lineup," a CMC spokesman says, but the company was not yet ready to tip its hand on what other hi-def channels might be added. Likewise, the CMC is not disclosing pricing information on the new HD service.

In addition to tapping HITS for HD, cable affiliates could also secure carriage agreements on their own with local broadcasters and for networks such as ESPN HD, which could fall under special sports blackout requirements.

The HITS Quantum HD offering represents a small portion of the entire HD-Prime lineup. According to an SES Americom official, HD-Prime currently offers 31 HD channels in MPEG-2 format. SES Americom will lean heavily on AMC-18 to formulate its HD strategy moving forward. That satellite, which entered service in February, has sufficient capacity to launch a significant chunk of the 63 new HD channels SES Americom expects to introduce in the U.S. over the next nine months, a spokesman said in an email to Cable Digital News.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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