The Future of TV Programming – In High Def vs For High Def

Movies are shot knowing or hoping they are going to be seen by an audience, in a theater, watching on a very big screen. Even though over the life time of any film, more people will see it on a 4×3 TV screen than in a theater, the theatrical release drives all the downstream business. So its understandable that a movie will be shot to tell a story using every bit of the big screen and great sound available in theaters today.

Then there is the TV business. Content shot for TV today is shot and protected for its biggest possible audience, which for today and at least the next 7 to 10 years is going to be an audience watching on a 4×3 TV. Even with the analog cutoff coming in Feb of 2009, most people who watch TV will watch on a regular, non HDTV.

Thats a real problem for people producing TV shows.

Because TV Networks, whether broadcast or cable want to sell ads and reach the largest possible audience, they have to produce their content so that it is viable on the lowest common denominator of TV reception, the 20″ analog TV. The conventional wisdom is that dramas and high end shows are shot in film while comedies are shot on HD Tape, and reality shows are regular tape. But all are shot “protected” for regular 4×3 TVs.

Unfortunately for all those producing shows for TV, people are rarely buying 20″ analog TVs any longer. HDTVs will outsell analog TVs this year and forever more.

Which creates a unique opportunity for HDNet. HDNet is the only network whose content is created FOR HDTVs.

Other networks content may be shot in HD, or shot on tape or film and then converted to HD, but in all cases they are protected for 4×3. Only HDNet shoots in full resolution 1080i for an audience exclusively with HDTVs.

To some it may seem like a trivial difference. Its not. Creating shows for 16×9 rather than 4×3 creates new opportunities for directors. Great stories have a pallete that rivals a theatrical experience.

Ask anyone who watchs HD content on an HDTV whether they would prefer their favorite HD shows shot in HD, or converted from film or upconverted from standard def tape. When given the choice, shot in HD FOR HD always gets the vote.

Its going to be interesting to see how long broadcast and cable networks pander to the 4×3 masses at the expense of those who love their shows in HD. With 90mm cable and satellite homes, the huge majority of which have 4×3 TVs, it could be 5 or more years before they are willing to change the status quo.

RIght now they can get away trying to serve two masters. How long will that last ?

In the meantime, HDNet has a big advantage. Our viewers get the best of all worlds, great programming in High Def, exclusively for those with HDTVs

36 thoughts on “The Future of TV Programming – In High Def vs For High Def

  1. HD NET and HD NET MOVIES are true HD, other networks say ALL HD with 4×3 promos and commercials. 100% HD is the future, and every producer should be looking for their \”content\” to be the best format…HD. I produce a locaql music show in Chicago called JBTV, I shoot all our concerts, interviews and in studio performances in HD 1080i format, with our HDCAM Sony F900. If I can do it, then there is no excuses for any producer not to shoot and edit in the HD format. I\’m old enough to remember when NBC converted to COLOR, and the same old statements where made back then, only now it is HD….and we all know the ultimate outcome….unless it is in the highest quality to start with, this is the only way! As black and white lost the market, so will 4×3 programming. There are a lot of low cost alternatives in HD content production with small HDV format cmaeras, so the reality shows and other 4×3 programming really have No excuses NOT to use HD! Jerry Bryant Host/Producer/Owner JBTV-Chicago

    Comment by Jerry Bryant -

  2. Before HD makes huge inroads, someone has got to make it easier.
    The HDTV is just the tip of the iceberg. HDMI cables, a new receiver with HDMI plugs AND HDCP circuitry. New DirecTV dish, new DirecTV DVR box, higher rate to see HD channels! Where does it end??!! By the time I was done with my system, my blood pressure was 30 points higher!

    Comment by Bob Storms -

  3. I can barely watch standard def anymore and the HD stations still have lots of tics. hdnet, inhd and discovery hd theater do it proper.

    Comment by Darren Olcsvary -

  4. 768P

    I wonder if perhaps HDNet should shoot in 1366×768 or 768P.

    All the HDSets sold for couple years have been native 768 either 1024 or 1366.

    Can you broadcast in 768P? is anything mandated?

    Because PIXEL PERFECT is really the most bad ass thing – its as noticeable a fix an improvement as anything out there.

    Comment by Morgan Warstler -

  5. The \”common denominator\” now may be those watching 4×3. It may change to 16×9. The question becomes will those with 4×3 sets have to watch, in what looks like a letter-box format with black bands above and below the picture. The 16×9 crowd watched that way for a time, but hopefully, we\’ll become the common denominator for production decisions.
    I like HDnet, but it does not have enough programming to make me watch more than perhaps once or twice a week.

    Comment by Thomason -

  6. What if anything can rival HD 1080i and make it become obsolete?

    Comment by Brian Kaldenberg -

  7. If you\’re talking about networks shooting all of their programming for a 4:3 aspect ratio than that\’s not entirely true. NBC, for example, shoots The Office, Friday Night Lights, and SNL (there\’s probably more) in 16:9 no matter if it is to be shown on a 4:3 set or a 16:9 set. The only difference is that if someone is watching it on a 4:3 you will have the letterbox black bars at top and bottom of the screen rather than the picture fitting to a 16:9 HDTV perfectly. I think any network that is shooting for both formats should adopt this, if possible. For example, you can tell that Sportscenter is shot for a 4:3 because when you switch to the regular cable version there is no letterbox and when watching on ESPNHD you can see all the unused space on the left and right sides of the screen.

    Comment by Sean -

  8. Yes Mark you are right. HDNet only films and broadcasts in HD 1080i. So we are all hoping that your costs remain below what the cable companies and satellite providers are paying to carry your station as part of the HD packages they offer.

    That is a very niche business as you are limiting yourself to less than 1/2 the TV audience market for the next 7-10 years and further limiting yourself to those who pay for HD programming.

    Let\’s hope you control your costs because I\’d hate to miss bikini destinations.

    I agree with Maui.. \”Personally, I can\’t wait until the HD content is ample and compelling enough for me to pull the trigger on the HD set. Right now, it\’s not there in my opinion\”

    BTW. My local NBC broadcasts only in HD on Dish Network. So the image does not appear \”letter box\” style or distorted, but during commercials text is cut off as well as the H in HD during the show.

    Comment by PSC -

  9. As I have recently purchased and connected a new HDTV, I have become very aware of the shortcomings of the current state of HD programming. Besides the great sports coverage (Go Wizards! Go Agent Zero!) I have found the lack of original HD only content really disappointing. Yes I have HDNET, Discovery HD, and National Geographic HD, but that doesnt make it worth the extra $10 a month on top of what I am already paying. Sure, on could say that we are investing in the future of tv, and I agree to a certain extent. My question is, when will that future be a reality? 2 years? 5years? 10 years? I know the FCC has mandated 2009, but until the analog signals are deactivated broadcasters will still pander to whichever has the higher rating score. After all, its all about the Benjamins.

    One aspect of this conversation I think needs some discussion is how will the gaming industry affect this and vice versa? With the advent of HD gaming on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 gaining an ever-growing user base what role will it play in the push toward HD only programming?

    I think it will accelerate the timeline quite a bit and allow the younger generations to dictate what will be on tv in the not-so-distant future.

    Thank you, and keep up the good work Mr. Cuban.

    Comment by RLC -

  10. I\’d like to repeat Mark at Comment #16, with this addition: iNHD is the HDNet-like channel (competitor?) I have on my Comcast system (Comcast being an investor). I cannot tell if it\’s \”HD FOR HD\” but they do run programming in 1080i and the experience is fantastic.

    Side note: I have heard rumors that iNHD is going the way of the Dodo this Spring.

    I would also add NatGeo to the mix of great HD programming. I have spent many wintery weekends completely mezmerized — NatGeo has great content with a very broad appeal, or at least broader than that of chopper enthusiasts.

    Comment by Michael -

  11. Hi Mark!

    I get what you are saying, you\’re right. People want HD content that does not compromise and isn\’t bound by the 4:3 ratio.

    I have something to add to what you\’ve proposed. Starting with a bit of history for the uninitiated:

    The aspect ratio of TV\’s became 4:3 in order to match the ratio of movies. The film industry answered by going widescreen to set itself apart and to to reverse its steady decline in attendance.

    Fast forward to the late 90\’s. With DVD\’s, the concept of widescreen in theaters AND at home began to creep in, and the format also served to (slowly but surely) educate the public on their differences as well as to raise their standards for image quality/presentation.

    Yet there are still casual consumers that think widescreen is ripping them off the top and bottom of their images or simply don\’t care to get the \”whole picture\” that movie folk are so adamant to preserve. The thing is, this same casual consumers that now own/will own HD tv\’s will see their standard def/ratio content either stretched wide or with the black bars they so loath, this time on the sides. Not just that. Save for high bitrate, up-converted DVD\’s, all standard def looks better on an analog tv. Period.

    This won\’t be to their satisfaction. In fact, I\’m pretty sure the majority of people who own HD tv\’s dislike what their new thousand dollar toys do to the television they\’ve always known, and more specifically cable channels that have yet to go HD.

    In other words people want:

    . Their HD bereft from the creative/logistical influence of any lower standard.

    . Having ALL their standard def content become HD. NOW.

    . Having their standard def content look as good as it did on their previous Analog tv\’s, as it now underwhelms them much in the same way a movie buff would find a sergio leone film visually underwhelming in a fullscreen ratio.


    Comment by Fernando -

  12. Irrelevant of the medium, I guess what broadcasters need is make sure that the viewers watch the advertisements.
    I guess they ned to come up with more innovations with commercial breaks. I suggest flash commercials..

    Comment by Tony -

  13. Hey Mark,Watching HD after analog you feel like the difference between wall phones and cordless. Its like wow where has this been but it really comes down to the money. Back to the buck again. Its nice watching HD\’s but asked how many working stiffs went out this summer and dropped 750 to a 1000 bucks on a nice HD and you\’ll probably come up with a pretty small percentage of the people . Until the prices come down like all the other technology out there has,its going to be gradual and a lot of people that just dont have that kind of money to burn on tvs when the one they have is working perfectly fine,are going to be stuck with it. No offense to couch potatoes but I know most of the time , you re not thinking wow, I can put my tv that works perfectly fine out on the curb and go burn some of my hard earned money on an HD. Five years is a pretty round number . Thanks for the thoughts.

    Comment by Frankie from Lawnside -

  14. Human motivators of scarcity and exclusivity are powerful to make people act and buy a HD TV and subscribe for HD stuff.

    However, it\’s content is what drives people to watch a show, not definition. A bad show in high definition is never going to be passed over a good show in low def. And if the shows are displayed in both high and low def, people with low def sets will not have enough of a motivator to switch.

    Who pays for the shows? Advertisers. Does a HD only show makes any sense now? No, because the ROI for advertisers would be too low: (unless prices for advertising on hd networks is subsidized, which doesnt make business sense).

    Putting the three together: unless a network produces a killer viral must watch show that is ONLY available in HD, people wont feel motivated to switch AND advertisers wont be enticed to \”fund\” the whole thing.

    We will only get closer to the tipping point if we have great, fantastic content that is not available elsewhere in any form.

    Think about it: if a game is broadcasted in both high and low def it\’s not a scarcity motivator enough to make people switch. Would you NOT watch your favourite team play because its not on high def? Of course not.

    This is a content crusade. Throw in some scarcity and exclusivity (making people feel left out if they dont have HD TV) and then you will see them switching very fast.

    Not likely to happen though is it.

    Comment by Henrique Valle -

  15. This idea is not so revolutionary. The major networks are already shooting their shows for HD/Widescreen then showing them in letterbox format for standard-def (Lost and the Office are two examples I can think of off the top of my head). This is allowing them to use the whole frame like they would if shooting a feature film. I don\’t think it will take but 2-3 more years before the vast majority of network and high profile cable channel (news channels, espns, discovery, history, etc) will follow suit for anything new they generate. On top of that, the reduced picture on the standard tvs will only serve to entice more customers to purchase the HDTVs and sooner, which is a win-win for the entertainment industry and the electronic industry.

    Comment by Josh -

  16. I watch HD channels almost exclusively; I can\’t stand the lower quality viewing other channels. HDNet as a good variety of shows; something to appeal to everyone. ESPN gets a lot more viewing in my home than they used to because of their HD channels.

    Occasionally I\’ll watch something that isn\’t in HD because I really want to see the particular content – not very often, though.

    Comment by Dave Allen -

  17. I want to thank you so much for HDNet and it\’s wonderful programming. If I lived 2 miles up the street I\’d be stuck with INHD.

    Comment by Jason D -

  18. Im done thinking hd will change the world… the networks dont care to make a change…and cable companys charge you 10 extra bucks to view 3 more chd chanels….

    Comment by Hector Marroquin -

  19. This is a chicken or the egg situation: does the content drive the users, or do the users drive the content. And at what stage does the lowering of prices speed up one of those or the other? Personally, I can\’t wait until the HD content is ample and compelling enough for me to pull the trigger on the HD set. Right now, it\’s not there in my opinion.

    Comment by maui -

  20. I am a HD only junkie and watch very little analog programs, however the winner will always be content over delivery. Being a huge Wizards fan, I am forced to use comcast over DTV because \”Comcast Sports Net\” carries all games. Even with NBA package, the local game (wiz) always semmed to be blocked out.

    The game today versus Mn was even blacked out on CSN (I guess ABC has exclusive during Sunday game). Plus, there was no OTA broadcast. So after about 1/4 of watching live stats on, I would have paid anything to see the game…even youtube quality.

    Comment by Laxdog -

  21. Is this quote actually true? (Emphasis on \’ONLY\’)

    \”HDNet is the only network whose content is created FOR HDTVs\”

    Comment by Mark Barrera -

  22. Totally agree with your assessment Mr. Cuban, there is a big difference, and I think that most regular HDTV owners don\’t know the facts about how tv shows are shot and produced. By far HDNET is the best source of original HD programing shot in HD and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Keep up the good fight.


    Comment by LTH -

  23. Have you seen HD on TNT, even the Oscars last night was doing a bit of this stretch gimmick where they take a 4×3 picture and stretch the edges out to fill a 16×9 screen. It\’s really an annoying artifact.

    Comment by TonyZ -

  24. …honestly, i wish i could pay for HD-only cable at this point. i have a full spectrum of cable networks, however, other than CNBC, there\’s virtually no programming that I watch that is not broadcast on one of the HD channels.

    many thanks for your work in this field, mark…going to be proven a well-timed bet.

    Comment by John -

  25. Mark you are 100% correct! .. when everyone is \’ gently \’ forced into a high def set, then the price should be wayyyy less. And I believe it will work. in the end for both good – for consumers and producers

    Comment by Pallet Rack -

  26. have you ever thougt about what happens to all those old TVs as people buy more and more HDTV\’s? And then what\’s going to happen to the HDTV\’s when the next generation of viewing arrives? This thought came up when reading your blog. I\’d like you to address consumerism and its effect on the environment some time.

    Comment by greg -

  27. Do I understand it right: If I have an old 4:3 television and the tv show is recorded in HDTV-format, does it mean that I can\’t watch it anymore on my tv or is just the quality worse?

    Comment by Frank -

  28. How have I never heard of this? Oh yeah, my TV sucks…

    Comment by Sports Bettor -

  29. Mark is talking about producing HDTV and using the full HD screen. If you watch CSI or other HD produced TV shows in HDTV you\’ll notice action is in the center and the borders tend to be fancy letterboxing — nothing is going on in those borders.

    They do this so they can quickly cut down their HD shot show to 4×3 for standard broadcast.

    HDNET on the other hand uses the full extent of the screen. If you watch Dan Rather Reports you\’ll see they position dan\’s shoulder, in the shots where he is in the studio, on the far edge of the screen, not in the 4×3 protected area. On a 4×3 screen his head would probably be cut in half.

    The thing that is irritating me at the moment are shows that are shot in HD (4×3 protected or not) that aren\’t broadcast in HD.

    My local PBS channel has 5 digital channels, at least one frequently shows 720p shows. Nova, History Detectives, etc… are only shown 480i letterboxed.

    Discovery channel\’s HD shows American Chopper over and over again in 1080i. Mythbusters is only on the regular channel in 480i letterbox.

    Fix that problem, then I\’ll worry more about protected vs. unprotected shows….

    Comment by Yakko -

  30. I think Mark makes some good points, particularly in the distinction of taking advantage of a new medium.

    However, as a technologist and film-maker who\’s played with HD extensively, I think that film is still superior for a lot of content (dramas with a softer look, low contrast/high-light situations). I also think that HDNet does a great job of having HD content.

    I think that there was so much jumbled into the post that one of the most interesting things was overlooked–which is aspect ratio. Most people don\’t mind letter-boxing around their visual media. However, most people get very turned off by slightly stretched images and distorted pictures on HD screens. I\’d like to see that fixed and standard ratios settled on.

    Comment by christmasgorilla -

  31. I think the switch is going to happen faster than later. It doesn\’t take people long to figure out what they like better, and people in America go get what they like at the earliest convenience.

    Networks and advertisers want the best return for their investments, therefore they should be more concerned over enticing the HD-ready crowds. Do you honestly think the guy with \”4:3 analog-ready VHS-programming RF-Modulater\” is going to more toothpaste, cars, and stereo systems than the \”52-inch 1080p DLP\” enthusiast??

    I agree that its easier to down-convert a higher quality HD signal to a beautiful 4:3 viewing experience than it is to do the reverse. \”You can\’t polish (feces)\”

    Oh, and yes, and DiscoveryHD are the two best channels broadcasting anything. I watch things I don\’t even care about, just because they look good. I\’m comfortable with whatever ends they will brainwash me to — I like the means.

    Comment by saM FFL -

  32. I think they should keep producing in wide format and have networks continue broadcasting with differently formatted streams well past 2009…

    I just think it would suck for poor old me-maw to HAVE to go buy a new TV so she can keep watching Magiver re-runs and Texas Rangers baseball.

    Comment by Mike Carroll -

  33. Case of \”Techie\” vs \”The rest of society\”– every Techie wants a BIG screen in their home, huge surround sound, and the best video technology available (HD-DVD, Blue Ray, HDTV, etc). Where as the rest of society (and the majority of society) agrees with John Lynn above. They recognize the difference, but simply don\’t care– and I admit that being a Techie with all of the above in my home. And with the majority of Society not having a strong demand and opinion for this– there just isn\’t going to be a huge rush. However the biggest ally of Techies in getting this conversion done are the broadcasters (both cable companies and over-the-air)– analog bandwidth is expensive, and they will push digital technologies. This will require investments in the infrastructure Rather than investing and upgrading to \”just\” digital for a few years, and then re-investing and ugrading hardware again down the road to support mass-HDTV programming– they\’ll spend a slight premium and save the headaches, customer inconvienences, and time of two core network projects. HDTV will be the \”default\” signal in 3-5 years; with a set top box to \”downconvert\” to 4:3. The \”X\” factor is the viability of Internet based \”meals\” as Mark addressed earlier in the weak. That is not a parallel technology, but a perpindicular one. The consumer will go one way or the other– easiest \”value\” solution.

    Comment by Jeremy Guenthner -

  34. Discovery HD Theater. Most of it is unique to that channel, and even a lot of the stuff that isn\’t but is filmed in high def (mostly building motorcycles) feels like it is.

    Comment by Matthew Maroon -

  35. I think 5 years will be a minimum, because some of us really don\’t care about the size of the screen and the quality of the picture. Sure when you place them side by side you see the difference, but on its own we don\’t care. It\’s the same reason that I think you\’re wrong about the various internet TV systems becoming popular.

    Comment by John Lynn -

  36. I find that Mr. Cuban\’s HDNet is a step ahead of everyone else. It provides a service to everyone who can afford HD TV\’s and also afford to pay for HD channels. I know that there are many people who buy an HD channel yet only pay the additional 5 dollars to get the converted channels. The major news channels will only switch once analog TV\’s become a thing of the past, so i predict in like 15 year or so. But by then i\’m sure there will be new technology and HD TV\’s will be obsolete.

    Comment by scott bissinger -

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