Video services

HD Hopefuls Abound at CES

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) 's annual gadget-fest, is about to get under way in Sin City, and based on some of the announcements already filtering onto the wire, high-definition video gear and services will be a primary theme this year.

While many of the new services will be "over-the-top," delivered directly to consumers via high-speed Internet connections, there's also a possibility that traditional video providers -- cable, satellite, and telco operators -- could announce expanded HDTV lineups. Prior to the show, here's a sample of how things stacked up among some of the majors in each category, based on our unscientific polling:

Table 1: HD: Who Does What
Operator HD Offering
DirecTV Announced it could have up to 100 HD channels by end of 2007, but started 2008 with "more than 85." Delivery of local HD broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS) varies by market.
Dish Network Offers more than 70 national HD channels, but delivery of local HD broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS) varies by market.
Cablevision Systems 45 HD channels, and more than 30 "constantly refreshed" HD-VOD titles. Aside from premium channels like HBO, the MSO's hi-def tier is offered for no extra charge to digital customers.
Verizon (FiOS TV) Verizon lists 23 national and premium HD networks. With the addition of local broadcast HD networks, that total would push closer to 30. Verizon plans to offer more than 150 HD channels by the end of 2008. Last month, it launched an HD-VOD service in select markets, starting with about 75 titles. It plans to offer more than 1,000 HD-VOD titles by year-end
Comcast Corp. Comcast does not officially break things down this way, but it's believed to offer about 30 HD channels. Overall, the company says it provided 250 HD "choices" today when factoring in its mix of free and pay HD-VOD titles and linear nets.
AT&T (U-verse) Offer more than 40 HD channels "in most markets," and claims to offer more channels in those areas than the incumbent cable operator. It also plans to add more channels this year, but has not been specific. It has also discussed the development of an HD-VOD service, but has not pinpointed the timing for a commercial launch.
Cox Communications Offers 29 linear HD channels (including locals and premium networks). Recently launched HD-VOD initially in northern Virginia and Oklahoma City with about 20 HD movie titles. The operator plans to offer some "free" HD-VOD titles as well. Last June, company president Pat Esser said Cox would free up enough capacity to offer as many as 50 hi-def channels by the end of 2007.
Insight Communications Up to 26 HD channels per system, plus more than 40 HD-VOD titles on average.
Time Warner Cable On average, MSO offers more than 20 HD channels, although it offers as many as 40 in its San Antonio system. It has also launched an HD-VOD service, but the average number of hours or titles offered is not disclosed.
Charter Communications Averages about 20 linear HD channels per system, and expected to offer more than 100 HD "options" in most markets by the end of 2007, when factoring in HD-VOD titles.
Company reports and Cable Digital News research.

While comparisons can be difficult, since some providers focus on having more linear HD nets while others play up their HD-VOD stores, DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) is certainly the HD leader among satellite TV providers, and has an arguable claim as the overall leader.

We'll give Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) the cable crown based on its beefier linear lineup and HD-VOD offering, followed closely by Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK). On the telco front, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is considered the front-runner due to its solid combination of linear and on-demand offerings.

According to new data from In-Stat , about 90 percent of U.S. cable TV systems presently offer an HD video service.

Heading into 2008, expect more operators to take the lead of MSOs such as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cablevision, and Cox Communications Inc. to be more aggressive with switched digital video (SDV), a technique that's designed to free up valuable spectrum for broader HD offerings. (See SDV Deployment Snapshot II , Cox Flips BigBand's DV Switch , and Charter Charts First SDV Course .)

"We think that we have the capacity to carry as many HD channels as can be launched," Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge told investors in November. (See Cablevision Confident About HD Capacity.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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