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From Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

Cable customers flock to high definition TV



Tuesday, January 06, 2004 - MONTEREY PARK - Cable? DirecTV? Rabbit ears?

With so many of 2003's holiday advertisements dedicated to high definition television sets, it was easy to lose track of "HD" programming. Best Buy, Circuit City and Radio Shack, among others, all tried to lure customers with improved plasma, liquid crystal display and projection sets - and much lower prices, to boot.

Meanwhile, cable companies have been preparing for the latest round in the fight with mini-satellite dish companies for control of the shifting television subscriber landscape.

Cable providers argue that the route to victory over mini-dish companies such as DirecTV, recently purchased by tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and Dish Network, is through adding services satellites cannot deliver.

For San Gabriel Valley cable subscribers, that means not just more channels, but more high-definition channels.

This winter, Dallas-based Charter Communications Inc. has added five all-HD networks to its lineup. For $6.99 per month, Charter customers can receive Discovery HD Theater and HDNet and HDNet Movies, the 2-year-old networks operated by Dallas Mavericks owner and Broadcast.com founder Mark Cuban. They can also purchase high-definition versions of HBO and Showtime.

Those services, Fox HD and NBC HD are available to Charter's 100,000 customers in the San Gabriel Valley and Whittier service areas. Executives hope the new channels will stem the flow of customers toward satellite providers, which, they say, don't have the bandwidth to handle as many HD channels - as well as telephone and Internet services - as cable can.

"If you can get all these services through one connection, that is very customer-friendly," Craig Watson, vice president of communications for Charter's Western region, said at Charter's cable facility in Monterey Park

The facility serves about 100,000 San Gabriel Valley homes.

"Once consumers see HD, it's a technology people are just going to have to have," Watson said.

Charter's decision to enlist HDNet and HDNet Movies backs up its belief that HD will become the dominant TV technology of the future. Both networks film and transmit 100 percent of their programming in high definition.

Customer response thus far has been dramatic. When Charter offered HD Net in St. Louis, it ordered 1,000 HD receiver boxes to prepare for the demand. The company sold out of the boxes in a day.

"It's a completely different viewing experience," Cuban said during a recent trip to Los Angeles. He attributed the surge in sales to "pent-up demand" for HD.

Coudersport, Pa.-based Adelphia Communications Corp. launched HD service in July. It also plans to increase its high definition options in the San Gabriel and Inland valleys, said Jeff Kapner, regional director of marketing and strategy for Adelphia in California.

However, HD subscribers account for just 5,000 of Adelphia's 1.2 million Los Angeles area customers. The company currently offers high-definition transmissions of KNBC, KABC, KCET, HBO HD and Showtime HD to subscribers in both areas.

Subscribers pay a monthly fee of $9.99 for an HD receiver box, which must be added to HD-ready TV sets in order to view high definition programs. The fee is waved with the purchase of a premium HD channel.

Adelphia hopes to add KCBS in high definition in time for the network affiliate's broadcast of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston on Feb. 1, Kapner said.

Despite the relatively small number of HD subscribers, Kapner said Adelphia has seen increased interest in its high definition products and expects to see greater growth in the coming year.

"Absolutely. We have been really surprised at the growth," he said. "I don't think we're shocked, but we're really excited about the growth."

Andrew Blazier can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477, or by e-mail at [email protected] .
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