Cable Operators

Creating an HDTV Star

1/06/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

The Gorillaz song “Feel Good Inc.” could very well be to HDTV what The Buggles and “Video Killed the Radio Star” was to MTV 24 years ago.

The “Feel Good Inc.” video, originally shot in high-definition format, will be the first piece of content aired on MHD, MTV Networks Group’s new HDTV channel, when it launches at 6 p.m. (ET) on Jan. 16. Jeff Yapp can only hope MHD has comparable success as its analog progenitor.

“We’re very excited,” says the MTVN Music Group executive vice president of program enterprises. “HD really helps showcase music that is unique. We want to offer the most complete music HD experience in TV.”

Combining programming from MTV: Music Television, VH1 and CMT: Country Music Television “is allowing us to leverage strength of all three music networks. This is just another element of our multiplatform strategy.”

FILMING FOR A YEAR

For more than a year, MTV has been filming live events and series in high-definition, including the Video Music Awards, Unplugged and $2 Bill Concert series. Material from those programs — plus VH1’s Storytellers and CMT’s Crossroads that feature live performances — have all been shot in the format, which will form the basis of the HDTV lineup.

During the first week, MHD will carry $2 Bill Concerts of Kanye West, My Chemical Romance and System of a Down, MTV Unplugged episodes with Alicia Keys and an MTV Live! segment featuring Coldplay.

The network also began shooting studio segments from its new HD production studio near the top of Vail Mountain in Vail, Colo. The studio has been built into the Eagle’s Nest, a pre-existing building on Vail’s ski slopes and will serve as a studio base for early HD content.

MTV is filming several artists playing at the Jan. 11-12 Ullr Fest in Breckenridge, Colo., about 30 miles from Vail. The Music with Altitude concert special will feature Dashboard Confessional, the Goo Goo Dolls, Gary Allan and Cheyenne Kimball.

Those concerts will air on MHD throughout February and March, and will be sponsored by television maker Mitsubishi Corp., the network’s charter sponsor.

Top awards shows, including CMT’s annual Flame Worthy Video Music Awards show in April and the MTV Video Music Awards flagship in August on MTV, will be shot in HD.

“More and more content is being shot in HD,” Yapp says, even music videos. “There was some hesitancy initially, but now people are coming around. It’s just a great experience.” Several hours each day on the schedule will be devoted to HD videos.

“Our intent is to make sure the channel looks phenomenal,” he adds. “We will acquire and shoot as much native HD content as possible.”

Yapp believes the audience is ready for music content in HD, as many HD homes have surround-sound systems for watching DVD movies on their HDTV sets. Yapp cites research from Voom HD Networks that listed music among the top three HDTV-content choices by consumers.

“When you see music for the first time, [have] the visual connection, broadcast in surround sound, and put those two together, you end up with a completely different experience,” he says. “We think we’re at the tipping point. There are going to be a lot of HD sets in our audience’s homes and we want to be there with content.”

MTV is busy selling the network to affiliates, landing its first deal with Cox Communications Inc., as well as the charter ad pact with Mitsibushi. “All of our pieces are coming into place,” Yapp says.

VERY HIGH STUDIO

MHD’s first studio is 10,350 feet above sea level. The state-of-the-art glass-walled studio in Vail will be home to Colorado native and current mtvU on-air personality George Oliphant, who will host new and original shows such as MHD Top Ten and MHD Video Stew, along with live in-studio events and interviews with artists from the top of Vail Mountain.

U.S. Team freestyle skier and former University of Colorado wide receiver Jeremy Bloom will join Oliphant as an on-air VJ when he returns from the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turino, Italy.

“Part of creating a channel that lives up to this technology is finding a studio location that showcases the programming in the most visually compelling way,” MTVN Music Group senior vice president of business development Tony Dunaif said when MTV announced the Vail location last month.

The studio will feature Sony camcorders, Apple Computer Inc. post-production suites, a Cisco Systems Inc. gigabit Ethernet switch and Sennheiser Electronic Corp. microphones and audio gear.

Currently, MTV uses a combination of in house and outside production teams to procure its programming. “We’re kind of a mix,” says Steve Kaufman, senior vice president of production operations and technology at MTVN. “The HD strategy follows along in that model.”

NEW TRUCK IN GARAGE

MTV also has purchased an HDTV production truck that features 16 camera systems and 37 color monitors. “There are a lot of HD production trucks available out there now, but most are centered around sports,” Kaufman says. “We do entertainment and there aren’t that many entertainment trucks out there. We opted to build our own.”

MHD, for instance, needs more playback and storage equipment in its HD truck than, say, ESPN. “There are a lot of different elements you roll into shows,” Kaufman says. “We need a lot more videotape machines for playback and record. Even if it’s live, you’ll clean it up for later air. We have a lot more digital video servers to play more elements into the show and record separate elements.”

MHD will use Dolby audio digital surround sound and the 1080i video format.

So, with 5.1 surround sound and 1080i pictures, MHD will launch next week, possibly ushering in a new era for HDTV, where the sound of all those music videos and concert series will be as important as the pictures themselves.

September