Why Not HD: Prime and Downton Abbey


In another blow to lovers of quality drama and documentaries, Sky TV has ruled out Prime switching to HD in the foreseeable future.

The confirmation comes just as the satcaster’s free-to-air network notched up record ratings for Tuesday’s premiere of the sensational costume drama, Downton Abbey.

The first episode is being repeated tonight at 9.35 and was rightly hailed by one of the country’s top TV critics, Jane Clifton, as “seriously well told” and deserving of its “almost unprecedented hype and gush …

“It doesn’t grab you by the lapels from the first shot. But if by the end any viewer is left other than hopelessly intrigued, they should probably have their pulse checked.”

Moreover, it rewarded the huge gamble Prime took in paying top dollar for Downton Abbey so it could outbid TVNZ.

Prime issued a press release on Wednesday observing the premiere was Prime’s “highest ever rating drama” — although it still drew fewer viewers than the undistinguished competition on TV One, TV2 and TV3.

Even more lamentable than that is the fact it was filmed in 1080i but is being broadcast here in SD.

And don’t hold out hope it may be re-run in HD – Sky TV chief John Fellet says there are no plans to convert Prime to HD.

This verges on unforgiveable for a network that has some of the best series for showcasing in HD, from Downton Abby and the latest series of Doctor Who, which starts Thursday, to Life, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Weeds and True Blood.

Fellet argues it isn’t economically feasible to switch Prime to HD given it would cost four times as much to transmit the signal around the country at a time when the channel’s FTA ad revenues don’t justify it.

“It’s pure economics,” he told ScreenScribe.tv.

Such hard logic may be just as hard to dispute but it’s a poor look for a channel that aspires to be taken as seriously as TV One and is backed by broadcaster as dominant in this market as Sky, with its reach into 50% of homes.

It had been thought Prime would go HD next year, in time for its coverage of the London Olympics but the best viewers can expect is an Prime HD channel exclusive to Sky, as happened last year with the Commonwealth Games.

In this month’s issue of Onfilm magazine, I report on Downton Abbey’s counter-scheduling importance to Prime, a channel that’s built its profile on point-of-difference programming.

But under current management its biggest point of difference risks being the only SD network in an HD marketplace.

  • The good news about Downton Abbey is it’s out on Blu-ray in the UK and the US – Amazon.co.uk has the best price, £10, and free shipping to NZ — and will be released here on DVD later in the year, although Universal Pictures can’t confirm if there will be a Blu-ray edition.
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2 Responses to “Why Not HD: Prime and Downton Abbey”

  1. I think Fellet is a fool. If Prime was HD, for instance, I would watch it, but I’m NOT and never will be watching the current macroblocky crap that Sky churn out.

  2. I suspect that Sky will make Prime permanent HD on Sky platform but not in Freeview.

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