Blog Maverick: The Future of TV Programming – In High Def vs For High Def

Content shot for TV today is shot and protected for its biggest possible audience, which for today and at least the next 7 to 10 years is going to be an audience watching on a 4×3 TV. Even with the analog cutoff coming in Feb of 2009, most people who watch TV will watch on a regular, non HDTV.

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Because TV Networks, whether broadcast or cable want to sell ads and reach the largest possible audience, they have to produce their content so that it is viable on the lowest common denominator of TV reception, the 20″ analog TV. The conventional wisdom is that dramas and high end shows are shot in film while comedies are shot on HD Tape, and reality shows are regular tape. But all are shot “protected” for regular 4×3 TVs.

I disagree with this assessment (and HDNet commercial), assuming that the analog TV shutdown happens as planned in 2009.

When only ATSC signals are available over the air (OTA), either standard-def (usually 4:3, sometimes letterboxed) or high-def (always 16:9, sometimes windowboxed) programming will be available though those channels. The major broadcast networks are committed to HD, and at this point I think it’s unlikely that HD ATSC broadcast stations won’t be the norm. As a result, we should be able to assume that through those pipes 16:9 content will flow. OTA ATSC set-top boxes (STBs) intended for 4:3 analog TVs may offer a zoomed crop for 16:9 programming, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll letterbox it, like a DVD player does for a 4:3 TV when it plays anamorphic widescreen content. That would mean that it’s a lot less likely that new programming, the majority of which should be broadcast 16:9, whether native widescreen or windowboxed, would be viewed on an analog 4:3 TV as native 4:3, This would negate the lowest common denominator that Mark Cuban describes.

I continue to wonder what the cable companies will do with their analog service once OTA NTSC goes away. I think that if they continue providing analog service, they’ll take the OTA HD ATSC channels and letterbox them as well. However, there’s the chance that they’ll stop offering analog cable service all together and customers with analog non-HD TVs will have to use a STB just like their OTA brethren.

And what will the satellite companies do? Who knows?

I have nothing against HDNet or Mr. Cuban, but I read that post as FUD-mongering and wanted to give it a little of my perspective.

Update: Apparently this article isn’t published on the Blog Maverick site right now. I was reading it through Bloglines’ cache and reacted to it based on reading it there. We’ll see if the article re-appears, although I have the content cached if it isn’t.

Update 2 (6:45am 2/25): The referenced article is public now. Reading it again this morning, I see he’s referring to both broadcast and cable networks. My points obviously apply to just the broadcast networks, who should pull the overall trend towards 16:9 programming (or at least, presentation) once the analog shutdown is complete.