Thursday, January 24, 2002

"HD indie production" panel at NATPE 2002

Panelists shared their personal experiences with producing various genres of HD programming, from docs to long-form drama, for domestic and international productions.

The moderator was Bill Kurtis, anchor-executive producer, "Investigative Reports" and anchor, "American Justice" on A&E.

Industry experts who maded up the panel were Randall Dark, founder, president and CEO, HD Vision; Justin Albert, VP, production, Animal Planet; Paul Kafno, managing director, HD Thames; Tom Lynch, writer-creator-producer, Tom Lynch Co.

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

DTV Pioneers in the Lone Star State

by Jim Barry

Deep in the Heart of Texas, a pair of DTV Pioneers is blazing the trail for the future of digital high-definition television. Randall Dark, founder and president of HD Vision has been a producer and evangelist for HDTV for a decade, while Mark Cuban, co-founder of, current owner of the Dallas Mavericks and president of HDNet, is making his mark in DTV just as he did in Internet Media. HDNet is broadcasting all highdefinition content 16 hours a day, seven days a week on channel 199 of DirecTV satellite systems.

DTV Guide recently asked both men their impressions of the digital transition.

DTV Guide: What is your impression of how the digital transition is progressing? And what is needed to speed things up?

Mark Cuban: I'm glad it's been so slow, otherwise there never would have been such a great opportunity. It's amazing to me how stupid some of the big movie studios are, fighting over lame copy protection schemes, and pre-empting themselves from hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of DVHS tapes and the associated rentals.

What's worse, they have intimidated CE manufacturers to the point they have pulled DVHS units from the United States, and bastardized the products they have released sc the products put the interests of the studio over (those of) the consumer. Had this not happened, HD would have been here lonc ago. Consumers would have ignored DVD when it hit the scene hard 2-3 years ago due to HD's amazing picture quality.Then instead of spending money on DVD players to go with those HD ready TVs they would be spending money on DVHS players and the tuners/receivers to get the most from their sets. It's just one more example of how the music and film industries do their best to turn off their customers.

But then again, it's more opportunity for me. can tell you this, the content that HDNet produces, will not have ANY copy protection on it.When we ship a DVHS tape it will be the old-fashioned, all American way, with the understanding that consumers can be trusted.

DTV Guide: What other inhibiting issues do you see aside from copy protection?

Mark Cuban: Beyond the copy protection nonsense, next on the "What were they thinking?" list is our government. It's amazing tc me how the government doesn't practice what it preaches. There are billions of dollars at stake when spectrum is returned, yet the government makes no effort to move things along. I'm not even talking about passing laws to require movement or inclusion of tuners. Why is our government not broadcasting C-Span in HD? Why aren't the pool feeds from government news conferences broadcast in HD? Why isn't everything that is being captured by our government being captured in HD? Anyone with the need, can easily down-convert, but it would show everyone that HD is the direction we are going. It would push hardware prices down, and people would see the benefit more clearly. Why is the government not using the DTV transition as part of the negotiations over the network coverage issue? It could easily tell the networks, you can go to 40,50,60 percent, as soon as you give back spectrum for your O&Os, or start broadcasting exclusively in HD. You want something from us, you give something we need -- basic business 101. These are the issues that have stunted HD growth, more than anything.

Randall Dark: Mark has been great in helping the rollout of high- definition with HDNet. Also, two things have happened that I think pretty much guarantee the success of high-definition- the wide use of the 24p HD camera, and the rapidly dropping price of all digital video equipment.

DTV Guide: What is the significance of 24p cameras?

Randall Dark, It changes the cost structure for the independent filmmaker. With HD you don't have to change film as often and tape is less expensive than film.You can finish what would be normally a 12- day shoot in 10 days and that saves a lot of money. But it's not just the savings;the quality is there too, so you can get that"film look."George Lucas is using it for Star Wars now and he doesn't have the same budget considerations the small independent filmmaker has but he uses the best tool to tell his story. Eventually all the visual storytellers will migrate to HD.

DTV Guide: And the lower priced digital production equipment?

Randall Dark:The cost structure of all digital production gear has come down dramatically. We're now into the fifth- or sixth- generation of HD equipment, which costs about one-tenth of what it did a few years back. In the early days we had no digital edit suites, a HD camera cost $350, 000, a lens$200,000, HD VTR $350,000, and $42,000 for a HD Monitor. Now you can get a camera,VTR and monitor for under $100,000.

DTV Guide: So there are lots of folks joining you in HD Production?

Randall Dark: A few years back we had one of the only HD production trucks in the country. Now Mark has trucks, the networks have trucks, Paul Allen (ASCN) in Oregon has a truck -- things are really moving ahead. But to keep the momentum going the money has to be there for everyone and it is. It's getting more economical to use HD, plus, you get spectacularly better picture and sound quality. It can be a big positive for broadcasters who have been losing market share.When they start doing local news in HD their share will increase.

DTV Guide: Randall, what sparked you to start HD Vision?

Randall Dark: I had been working in high-definition production since 1986 in Canada and in New York. I thought I could present the unbelievable advantages that HD has to offer better than the folks I was working for. So in 1992,1 started HD Vision. For a few years we had the only multi-camera HD truck in the country and we've had lots of"firsts" in HD production and broadcast since then.

DTV Guide: Mark, what sparked you to start HDNet?

Mark Cuban: I love to shop for tech. It was very obvious that the price points for DTVs had fallen so that anyone shopping for a big screen had an easy decision to buy an HD-ready set. When I talked to retail sales reps they said the only reason they weren't selling HD receivers to go with the TVs was lack of content.

Second, we were able to do a deal with DirecTV so we were in a position that if someone saw HDNet at a sports bar, in a store or at a friends, they just had to buy DirecTV with an HD-enabled receiver, and within a couple days they were ready.This immediacy of purchase was critical.

Third was realizing that all the important components were following a PC price curve -- as volumes went up, features improved and prices came down. wanted to be in a position to grow with the market before it became too obvious to everyone what was happening.

Fourth, with the exception of CBS, the rest of the market was saying HD was too expensive and not going to catch on.This meant that I would have some time to prepare and go after the market. Add to this that the government was pushing HD and there were 200 stations that were up, or close to up, after spending millions to get there. I thought the push for HD would only grow.

Finally, I found myself watching anything in HD that I could. I watched the 199 loop from DirecTV more times than I care to admit.

As I researched HD, I found the same experiences with others. I saw that I could grow viewership at a dramatic rate because as the market grew, people would find our channel, as opposed to TV today where networks struggle to get noticed. My guess is that we will have this edge for the next 3 to 5 years! When you put all this together, it was an easy decision.

DTV Guide: Aside from your ownership of the Dallas Mavericks, why sports?

Mark Cuban: We chose sports because it was the most compelling and differentiated content, from the aspect ratio to the resolution. Watching hockey and basketball, and then lacrosse, was a mind blowing experience. You can't take your eyes off it.This allows us not only to create great content for people to enjoy, but also great content for in-store demos, for those smart enough to use HDNet for that purpose. Just as important, it gives HDNet more experience at producing and broadcasting HD sporting events than anyone else in the US.

DTV Guide: Mark, do you view DTV as television or as on entirely new medium?

Mark Cuban: Bits are bits.The more you can send, the more you can do. Every bit is important in improving the experience, whether it's for picture quality, interactivity, data or sound. All together, they create the unique experience that, when combined with pricing comparable to analog, will drive people to HDTV.

from DTV Guide