Four Still an SD Lame Duck

C4 today is being relaunched as Four so it and sister channel TV3 can compete more strategically against TVNZ’s networks.

Owner MediaWorks TV is revamping the niche youth music channel into a mainstream entertainment network for 18-49 year-olds – the audience TV3 targeted for 21 years before setting its sights on 25-54 year-olds.

But whereas TV3 has been the leader in free-to-air HD, Four will continue to broadcast in SD just as its chief TVNZ rival, TV2, aggressively hikes its 1080i content from merely a few hours a week to more than 20.

Compounding this inequity is the number of TV3 HD properties that is switching to Four to help drive its ratings, including new seasons of The Simpsons, Family Guy and America’s Next Top Model. (Four officially launches at 6pm with the Flight of the Conchords episode of The Simpsons; the latest season will air weekly 7.30pm Sundays.)

MediaWorks TV chief executive Jason Paris acknowledges MediaWorks TV needs to be “sorting out” Four’s HD future sooner rather than later.

“Consumers are increasingly demanding their channels be brought to them in HD and that’s something we have to sort out,” he says.

“I think our first focus will be launching Four in HD on the Freeview platform and then working with Sky later to bring HD on the Sky platform.

“Freeview as a brand needs as many advantages as it can get heading into the digital switchover [in 2013], and if launching Four on Freeview in HD first, before the Sky platform, was something of benefit, then we’d probably look at doing that.”

But first, MediaWorks management has to decide if making Four HD is preferable to launching another SD channel.

“It’s about capacity issues at the moment,” Paris says. “You only have a certain amount of spectrum and we’ve just been looking at is that spectrum best used to increase Four to HD or should we be looking at using that spectrum for new channel launches.

“That decision hasn’t been made yet. There’s no guarantee Four will be going HD but I’d be leaning towards that option.”

Can Simpsons Conchords fly in SD?

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