Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Coming to a Screen near You: High-Definition TV

Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Coming to a Screen near You: High-Definition TV

Article excerpt

Sometimes you have to go abroad to realise just how provincial the UK media really are. A quick trip to the IBC exhibition and conference in Amsterdam at the weekend left one abiding impression - that after many years of disappointment, high-definition television (HDTV) is finally on the way. The trouble is, the breakthrough has occurred in the US, and there is little sign of action in the UK, or indeed anywhere in Europe.

'At last the killer application for digital,' an American executive sighed with pleasure. The figures are impressive. More than 10% of US homes now have HDTV sets, and the number is set to grow rapidly because the big screens are particularly good for sports such as baseball, ice hockey and tennis. Suddenly you really can see where the ball, or puck, is at any particular moment.

Programmers have responded to the very obvious demand with enthusiasm and investment. The ESPN sports channel has set up a high-definition sports channel, while Rupert Murdoch's Fox family of channels is launching no fewer than six high-definition sports channels on satellite. HDTV is seen as the driver for the switch from analogue in a country where mere channel choice is nothing new.

Europe is, of course, different. The quality of US television pictures has always been inferior to those in Europe, so it is hardly surprising that once a US consumer has seen HDTV, there is no going back. The difference between a current good-quality widescreen digital picture and high-definition will not be so dramatic in Europe.

But picture quality could still become an issue at the top end of the market. HDTV pictures, complete with surround sound, will enhance the viewing experience for everything from sports and opera to advertising.

So far the progress in Europe has been limited. In a scarcely noticed development at the start of 2004, an Antwerp company called Alfacam launched two high-definition channels across the continent under the banner Euro1080.

One is a 24-hour channel aimed at consumers, with a four-hour loop of sports, music and cultural events. The content ranges from Elton John and Eric Clapton to Sleeping Beauty and Fidelio. The second, more practical, station is an events channel relaying high-definition pictures of everything from performances of Cosi Fan Tutte to the Euro 2004 final to mass venues. …

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