Tracking the HD Wars

Back in May and June, a number of big U.S. cable operators made pledges to boost their high-definition TV (HDTV) programming significantly by year's end. Now that the year is starting to run out, it's time to take stock of how far they've gotten.

Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), which boasts more than 4 million HD-capable subscribers in its digital cable customer base, has probably made the most progress so far. Admittedly starting from a larger base of HD programming than most major MSOs, Time Warner has boosted its HD lineup to more than 60 linear channels in three large markets.

Most notably, Time Warner now offers as many as 85 HD channels in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens, including a few on-demand channels. And it's following through on plans to offer 100 HD channels in its flagship Manhattan system sometime next year.

At the same time, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has made good on its pledge to offer more than 1,000 "HD choices" to its 16 million-plus cable subscribers by year's end. That's up from about 500 HD offerings last summer.

But, as Comcast readily admits, nearly all of these HD choices are video-on-demand (VoD) movies, shows, events, and other tiles, not linear channels. The average Comcast metro cable system appears to have no more than 30 or 40 HD networks.

Charter Communications Inc. has markedly increased its number of HD choices as well. Charter says it now makes available more than 200 HD choices to its digital subscribers, up substantially from earlier this year.

As is the case with Comcast, though, VoD programs make up the great bulk of that lineup. Carrying more than 150 HD VoD offerings, the average Charter cable system doesn't appear to offer more than 40 or so HD channels. But that number is still up from the 15 to 20 HD channels that the MSO previously provided.

As usual, Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) stands out from the pack. In its third-quarter earnings report, Cablevision bragged that it now offers 65 HD channels to its virtually all-digital customer base, up markedly from earlier in the year. Plans call for adding a few more HD channels before the close of the year.

All in all, then, not too shabby. The only problem is that cable's chief rivals have been making just as much, if not more, progress on the HD front.

Take DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), for example. The satellite TV leader now offers more than 130 national HD networks to its all-digital customer base, up from 95 channels at the mid-year mark. In addition, DirecTV now has local HD channels in 115 markets, covering 87 percent of U.S. TV homes, after launching channels in six more local markets two weeks ago.

Plans call for DirecTV to beam down 150 national HD channels by the end of year, while increasing its number of local HD markets to 121. It then intends to raise the number of national HD channels to more than 200 sometime next year.

So cable will still need to play catchup next year. May the 2009 HDTV pledges begin.

— Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:25:48 PM
re: Tracking the HD Wars
Of course, if you download a lot of HD - you will break the bandwidth cap....

kumaramitabh 12/5/2012 | 3:25:48 PM
re: Tracking the HD Wars Where HD delivery is concerned, satellites such as Dish or DirecTV clearly have an advantage. The combined bandwidth offered by multiple satellites can not be beaten by Cable yet, where much higher encoding and carriage costs still prevail.

However they lead in terms of interactivity and local programming.Comcast, for example has over 25 million customers and over 50% have cable modems. Comcast had started its HD campgain with " Project Infinity" from Comcast will provide more han a thousand channels of HD programming; which was not very well recieved as in reality it had just about 60 channels.

But the cable networks will remain strong in HD. The actual number of subscribers is just about those on DirecTV.
tsat 12/5/2012 | 3:25:47 PM
re: Tracking the HD Wars

I am enjoying all the James Bond movies on Comcast HD on-demand.
nodak 12/5/2012 | 3:25:43 PM
re: Tracking the HD Wars seven

I am willing to bet since you are downloading the providers content, it will not count towards your cap, similar to how cell calls to other cells on the same network do not count towards the plans minutes.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:25:42 PM
re: Tracking the HD Wars
You missed the articles a couple of months ago that noted that this did count.

nodak 12/5/2012 | 3:25:39 PM
re: Tracking the HD Wars And cell phone companies originally charged for on net calls as well. I believe the articles also state the companies are testing them and trying to figure out how they want to set up the limits. The first step will probably be to discount the download so only a percentage counts, and then keep increasing it until it is unlimited, or, for a small nominal fee give you unlimited downloads on net versus a huge fee for no unlimited downloads.
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