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CBS Is Asking Manufacturers For HDTV Aid

CBS is asking consumer electronics manufacturers to pay for the cost of producing HDTV programming. That’s what industry sources were whispering about in the hallways of NAB ’99 in Las Vegas.

Responding to complaints from set makers that they need more widescreen, high-definition programming to spur sales of expensive HDTV sets, CBS is looking for a sponsorship deal where set-makers would pay for the cost of transferring prime-time film content to HDTV in exchange for sponsorship identification, industry sources say.

A broadcast source said the sponsorship identification might come in the form of a logo insert at the top of the HDTV picture, such as “CBS in HDTV brought to you by Panasonic.” In exchange, the manufacturer would pay for high-definition transfer and mastering costs, which run roughly $15,000 per hour, sources say.

CBS has declined to comment on the matter, indicating only that it will make HDTV-related announcements in its up-front presentation to advertisers on May 19. But Jim Goodmon, president of Capitol Broadcasting and its CBS digital affiliate WRAL-HD Raleigh, had heard about the sponsorship deal. He added that his digital station is already running free promotions for set manufacturers to drive sales in the Raleigh market.

Panasonic Broadcast president Warren Allgyer also intimated such a scenario at Panasonic’s NAB ’99 press conference in Las Vegas, saying that Panasonic “is pursuing sponsorships for the development and broadcast of HDTV programming.”

“Look for more exciting developments in the near future,” said Allgyer in his remarks. “We want to try to help broadcasters create compelling programs.” When the exact scenario of a logo insert bearing Panasonic’s name in a CBS HDTV program was presented to Allgyer afterward, he said “that sounds sensible. I know that offer was out there.” Allgyer didn’t indicate that such a deal had been reached between Panasonic and CBS. Instead, he said that “those kind of opportunities will drive the penetration of DTV sets” in the future.

Philips has also been approached about a high-definition sponsorship deal with CBS, according to Jeff Rosica, VP/general manager of Philips Digital Video Systems’ North American sales organization. “They’ve come to us,” said Rosica. “They’ve come to all the manufacturers.”

Additionally, executives with Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba acknowledged being approached by CBS about underwriting HDTV conversion costs, but all said their companies continue to study the proposal and have not reached any decisions.

According to CEMA, the proposal could help to invigorate DTV adoption.

“Our feeling is that content is what drives the next stage of the transition,” said a CEMA spokesperson. “Anything manufacturers can do to help the process along, we support.”

In a related announcement, CEMA said the focus of its next DTV Summit, which is slated to run with Digital Hollywood September 28 in Los Angeles, will focus on content.