SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/This Weeks Issue

ABC, ESPN plan more high-definition action

ABC Television and ESPN announced plans last week to expand their sports coverage in high definition.

ABC will broadcast championship and high-profile events in high definition, including next year's Super Bowl, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals, along with the entire 2003 season of "Monday Night Football."

ESPN, which, like ABC, is owned by Walt Disney Co., will launch a high-definition simulcast service of the network beginning in April. Dubbed ESPN HD, it will include 100 live telecasts, including live game coverage of games from the four major pro leagues.

An ESPN spokesperson said 200,000 to 300,000 high-definition TVs are in use today.

The broadcasting industry has been struggling over when and how to move up to higher-definition signals and what standards to adopt.

For the Super Bowl last year, Fox decided not to do a high-definition broadcast. Instead it transmitted the game through a digital signal compatible with high-definition equipment but not at quite the resolution of what's called HD.

The Federal Communications Commission has been pushing for over-the-air broadcasters to begin transmitting programming through a digital signal, and for television manufacturers to make TVs able to process those signals. But to this point, cable and satellite television has been most aggressive in the high-definition space.

Mark Cuban's HDNet is available on DirecTV and is looking to expand to digital cable and split into three channels, one of which would be devoted exclusively to sports. HDNet carried NHL games last season and MLB games this year. League sources said both were one-year deals, but HDNet and the NHL are in talks about an extension.

ESPN HD will be managed by ESPN Vice President Bryan Burns and be part of the ESPN Enterprises division under Rick Alessandri.

Its high-definition programming will be delivered to cable systems and satellite providers in high-definition format. ESPN will also digitally convert the rest of the existing ESPN signal to the high-definition format for viewing on high-definition television sets.

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