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ESPN launched ESPN2-HD with much fanfare last January at the Consumer Electronics Association show (CES) in Las Vegas. Much fanfare, but not many viewers. That changes on Sept. 8 when DirecTV finally delivers the channel to its 700,000 HD subscribers. The companies announced a deal months ago, but never said when the new service would launch on the nation's dominant satellite carrier. Until now, only Adelphia and Mediacom viewers have actually received ESPN2 HD.


The launch is great news for ESPN as the network has been producing ESPN2 events in HD since last January, adding to the cost of those productions, but with little return on investment. The addition of DirecTV's HD subscribers changes that.


"I think we'll have an equal number of event telecasts on ESPN HD and ESPN2 HD from Sept. 1 through the end of the year," says Bryan Burns, ESPN VP, strategic planning and business development.


The inaugural ESPN2-HD event on DirecTV on Sept. 8 is a college football game from Miami between Oklahoma State vs. Florida Atlantic. On Sept. 10 they'll be able to tune into another college game (expect ESPN and ESPN2 to air 70 college games in HD this fall) when Pittsburgh squares off against Ohio University.


Burns believes DirecTV's carriage is a tipping point both for the network and HD in general. And he says those distributors that don't feed HD owners' demand for content will put their customers at competitive risk.


"I'm not sure most in our industry understand what is about to happen in living rooms across America," he says. "I think there is going to be a dramatic increase in consumer demand for 16x9 HD this fall and 2006 is going to be the year we will look back and say, "that's when it turned the corner."
 
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