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Mitsubishi To Underwrite CBS’ HDTV Fall Lineup

Mitsubishi will be the exclusive underwriter for the conversion of a large percentage of the CBS Network’s prime time lineup to HDTV format for the 1999-2000 season, the manufacturer told dealers last week.

CBS has solicited consumer electronics manufacturers since last February to cover the conversion costs of its film-based prime time programming, as reported by yesterday. The Mitsubishi deal will make possible 11.5-15 hours of HDTV programming per week, greatly expanding the amount of HDTV programming available to digital set purchasers and giving CBS and Mitsubishi leadership positions for consumer “mind share” in the emerging DTV market.

Although a small percentage of the total cost of producing and airing each program, the conversion of film to the 1080i ATSC format is one more expense CBS must bear to present HDTV over the new digital system mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, said Bob Seidel, CBS engineering and technical operations VP.

Through the “multi-million dollar” underwriting deal, CBS will recoup some of its production outlay, while Mitsubishi will get an on-screen tagged announcement saying that it has underwritten the production cost of the HDTV broadcast. The notice will run at the front end of each program, and will appear on both the analog NTSC broadcast as well as the HDTV simulcast on CBS affiliate digital channels.

Seidel said Mitsubishi’s support will also be credited on the network’s website, and the manufacturers’ dealers will have an opportunity to tie in with Mitsubishi/CBS HDTV promotions on a regional or national basis. He said CBS and its affiliates intend to do local HDTV promotions in each market where the broadcasts are available, and those may involve consumer electronics retail events.

Beyond converting programming to HDTV or SDTV digital formats, each network and affiliate station must purchase new digital broadcasting equipment and train technicians to use the new technology. According to one manufacturer who was approached by CBS with the offer, the network was looking for $20,900 per 30-minute segment to underwrite the HDTV cost. Under a sample schedule offered to manufacturers, CBS’s “total out of pocket costs were $9,338,253,” including a monthly uplinking charge, and the cost of transferring several shows (Walker Texas Ranger, Promised Land and Touched By An Angel) from their original 16mm film format to 35mm prior to conversion to 1080i HDTV format.

That amount, which may differ from Mitsubishi’s deal (the manufacturer declined to provide exact terms), listed only the current prime time program schedule.

Because CBS programming executives have not announced the new prime time schedule, the exact programs that will be presented in HDTV this starting this Fall have not been determined, Seidel said.

Sources told TWICE that CBS proposed the following sample program schedule (22 episodes each) in the HDTV underwriting deal:

(Sundays) Touched By An Angel.
(Mondays) The King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, Becker, L.A. Doctors.
(Tuesdays) J.A.G., CBS Tuesday Movies.
(Wednesdays) Maggie Winters, Chicago Hope.
(Thursdays) Promised Land, Diagnosis Murder.
(Fridays) Buddy Faro, Nash Bridges.
(Saturdays) Early Edition, Martial Law, and Walker Texas Ranger.