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Cuban: Ignore Hollywood’s Smokescreen

Mark Cuban, founder of HDNet — the nation’s only all-HDTV network — recently concluded a whirlwind tour of multi-industry seminars and conventions where he evangelized a more proactive effort in launching HDTV equipment and services.

Speaking at such recent events as the CEA’s DTV Summit, the SBCA’s SkyFORUM and the NAB Convention, Cuban called the hue and cry for stronger anti-piracy measures from Hollywood and some terrestrial broadcasters “a ‘Chicken Little’ environment.”

Cuban urged broadcasters, manufacturers and cable and satellite providers to ignore Hollywood’s fight for ever-expanding copy protection systems, while pointing to the shortage of DTV set-top tuners and integrated sets as a major impediment to the DTV transition.

Cuban explained that electronics manufacturers have held back a full-scale product rollout because they can’t determine what copy protection solutions and digital interfaces Hollywood studios will allow them to add to integrated HDTVs and set-top tuners.

But, he alleged the most vocal content rights holders and broadcasters are using content protection as a smokescreen while they buy more time before committing money and resources to the conversion of their libraries and production facilities.

He explained that the studios’ real fear is in shelling out money to supply HDTV content that will have only limited incremental returns on their investments. He added, that most studios have archived the libraries in tape-based formats that are difficult and costly to convert to useable HDTV formats.

In actuality, he continued, studios and broadcasters know they have little to fear from HDTV pirates because PCs and Internet systems will lack the bandwidth necessary to utilize pirated HDTV content in any practical sense for years to come.

At the same time, Cuban put his own money where his mouth is by revealing plans to expand his HDNet HDTV programming service on the DirecTV satellite platform, and possibly on cable systems and independent DTV broadcast stations as well.

Cuban said he will soon offer three new all-HDTV channels carrying sports, entertainment and movies. The entertainment channel will feature a variety of programs including old TV series and other shows that will be transferred from 35mm film to 1080i video. He also intends to charge a premium for some of that new programming, while he maintains “the wow factor” of HDTV with a free basic HDNet channel that can be used by HDTV initiates and dealers.

Meanwhile, Cuban’s HDNet announced that it will again partner with NBC for HDTV event programming. The first live high definition coverage of the Visa Triple Crown, began with the Kentucky Derby. The HDTV broadcasts were available on NBC’s DTV affiliate stations and on HDNet’s channel 199 on DirecTV.

HDNet will use its mobile production units to produce the coverage in 1080i HD format. NBC announcers deliver the audio commentary from NBC’s standard production.

The coverage will extend to the Preakness Stakes on May 18, (5:00-6:30 p.m. ET) and Belmont Stakes on June 8 (5:00-6:30 p.m.).