Video services

The HD Numbers Game

11:20 AM -- Who's got the most HD? It depends on how you do your counting and how you define your hi-def world.

The hi-def tonnage hype went into high gear again yesterday when Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) announced it has become the first to eclipse the magical 200 HD "channels" mark, as it added networks such as EPIX. (See Dish: 200 HDTV Channels Served.)

Well, maybe it hit that mark, from a certain point of view -- Dish's point of view, that is.

Todd Spangler of Multichannel News got confirmation that 57 of those "channels" were actually HD video-on-demand titles available only to customers who have the company's new broadband-connected, "SlingLoaded" ViP 922 box. So Dish's definition of "channels" appears to be pretty loose to say the least. (See Dish Starts Selling 'Sling-Loaded' HD-DVR .)

Counting HD-VoD titles is nothing new, but the way in which Dish is counting them is.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), of course, has laid claim to the HD crown as well, touting its number of HD "choices," which include linear channels and VoD titles. According to an MSO spokeswoman, Comcast currently has 3,000 HD on-demand choices. Its "Project Cavalry" analog reclamation project, meanwhile, is freeing up room for Comcast to offer 100-plus HD channels as upgrades are completed in each market. "We plan to expand our current HD lineup beyond the thousands of HD choices available today," the Comcaster says, via email. (See Comcast to Wrap Wideband, All-Digital Rollout This Year.)

So, what of DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), which has been out there beating the HD drum too? Spurred by Dish's announcement Monday, DirecTV followed up today by announcing the addition of 30 new HD nets, including MSNBC HD, ESPNU HD, Travel Channel HD, and Univision HD. Those additions, which will begin to roll out next month, will take DirecTV's HD channel tally to "more than 160," the company said. (See DirecTV Claims 160 HD Nets.)

DirecTV also called on Dish to back up its 200 HD channels claim. "While Dish Network is very skilled at grossly inflating their HD numbers, you'd be hard pressed to find an actual list of comprehensive HD channels that matches their recent claims," Derek Chang, EVP of content strategy and development for DirecTV said, in a statement. "We challenge Dish to publish a list of all their full-time HD channels so consumers can decide and count for themselves."

We'll keep an eye out to see if and how Dish responds.

And expect the numbers game to continue as budding 3DTV services get off the ground. DirecTV, which is trying to take a leading position in this area as well, has been rather liberal with its definitions of what a 3D "channel" is, as well.

DirecTV's getting ready to launch three 3DTV channels of its own next month. One is a part-time linear channel, and the other two are 3D VoD and pay-per-view services. (See DirecTV Won't Give Cable Access to 3D Nets.)

So the game plan here appears to define "channels" and "choices" liberally when it's to your competitive advantage, and to call out rivals when it is not.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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