CLEARLY Mark Cuban argues for HD
Few people placed bigger, earlier bets on the future of high-definition than Dallas Mavericks owner and dot-com billionaire Mark Cuban. In 2001 he launched the first all-HD network, appropriately named HDNet. But in a world where everything from radio to Web streams now claim ever-higher resolution, is HD a differentiator? Interview by SS
Your network is actually named after a technology. Does HD mean more than lines of resolution? Is HD a draw by itself anymore?
Cuban: Our draw is the quality of our content. I think we have an edge in that we produce our content exclusively for an HD audience. An analogy would be movies. No one makes movies geared for TV-sized screens. They make them with theaters in mind. The movie has to be good for people to want to see it, but when they do see it on the big screen, they get the best possible and most enjoyable experience. HDNet is the same way. If you love our shows, you are going to love them even more on a big screen with 5.1 sound.
Is there any evidence yet that HD impacts involvement or engagement for the viewer?
Cuban: No question about it. Look at TNS and Rentrak. We see it in our Mavs and movie broadcasts. ESPN has confirmed it as well. Size and resolution matter. Let me put it another way. You just went out and spent $1,000 on a new TV that is now a centerpiece in your home. Did you buy it to use it or to ignore it?
Are HD ads more impactful?
Cuban: If I'm an advertiser, I wouldn't want my ads to be blurry with black bars after a viewer had just spent time marveling at the picture quality while watching a show, movie or game. It basically is the equivalent of yelling at the viewer that your brand is second-rate.
Is HDTV also impacting creativity and changing content? Will it just turn out to be the same old TV but with more lines?
Cuban: It's the same as asking whether a producer and director visualize a movie the same for a theatrical release versus a made-for-TV or made-for-Internet movie. Of course it's different. Our producers know they have a 16x9 palette to work with - that you can let the picture do the talking. News and documentaries have been changed as well. The picture can say far more and a reporter can say far less.
Many people have HD-capable TVs and aren't even aware that they are playing mainly standard-def feeds on them. Is the industry educating the consumer and explaining the benefits successfully?
Cuban: That will cure itself over time as standard-def feeds become like the AM radio dial - a ghetto of networks where picture and sound quality don't matter.
When everything is HD, how will an HDNet differentiate itself?
Cuban: Same way we do now, through quality programming geared toward our audience. MTV hasn't been about music for years, but no one asks what they will do when music videos are no big deal. The brand will stand based on the quality of our shows. We gear toward men. We dominate in mixed martial arts, which is the fastest growing sport for men. We regularly draw bigger audiences for MMA, movies, concerts and our "Guys Night In" shows than networks with far greater distribution in SD homes, according to TNS data. Our HDNet Movies offers sneak previews of movies before they are in theaters. We had Two Lovers with Joaquin Phoenix in February and The Great Buck Howard with John Malkovich and Colin Hanks in March. No other network, not HBO, not CBS, offers this, and our subscribers love it. And they don't care what our name is.