Video services

Cox Aims for 80

So far, the U.S. cable industry has all but allowed DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) to take the high ground on linear high-definition television, giving the satellite TV giant a big lead in terms of consumer perception based on a broader menu of networks.

Because it has to, DirecTV has focused on its lineup of linear hi-def nets: 92 "national" networks, plus a pledge to offer local HDs in 76 markets by mid-2008. Cable, probably because it has to, has instead focused on HD "choices" or "options" by calculating in hi-def titles delivered on-demand. (See Comcast Launches 'Project Infinity'.)

DirecTV, meanwhile, is attempting to trim some of cable's advantage with VOD with a broadband-fed service that will look and smell more like a "push DVR" than a traditional cable VOD offering. (See DirecTV Pushes Play on VOD Beta .) According to a report in today's The Wall Street Journal, DirecTV plans to launch that service in the second quarter of 2008.

Which brings us to Cox Communications Inc. , which announced this week that its Arizona system will offer approximately 80 channels in hi-def by year-end. (See Cox AZ Adds HD.) In addition to stealing away some momentum from the satellite guys, it does give cable a new HD high-water mark -- at least from a linear perspective.

But Cox isn't about to commit to that across the board. An MSO spokesman, via an email to Cable Digital News, notes that Cox has not stated how many HD channels it expects to offer in all systems by the end of 2008. Phoenix, however, just happens to be one of the markets where Cox is deploying switched digital video. It's also doing SDV in Northern Virginia. (See Cox Flips BigBand's DV Switch .)

But Cox's aggression with HD isn't a huge surprise. At the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo last June, Cox president Pat Esser said the operator would have capacity for 50 HD channels by the end of 2007 and enough for 100 by the end of 2008. (See Fretting Over HD.)

"While our DBS competitors continue their efforts at differentiation based on tonnage of linear HD channels, we are focused on quality (both in terms of picture and terms of content delivered)," the spokesman noted, adding that Cox will also be "quickly" adding more HD-VOD titles.

Even if cable operators are refusing to get caught up in the debate about who has the most linear HD channels, they are clearly starting to play up a message of "more" when VOD is factored in.

DirecTV On Demand will kick off with a library of 3,000 titles. It's not yet clear what percentage will be in HD format.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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