Smithsonian Goes High-Def

Smithsonian Goes High-Def 1The Smithsonian Network is ready to take off this week, thanks to a distribution deal with DirecTV.

The network, a joint venture between CBS’ Showtime Networks and the Smithsonian Institution, will be a linear high-definition channel.

Smithsonian Network was originally planned as a video-on-demand service, but it shifted gears as satellite and cable operators began competing to see who could offer viewers the most high-definition programming.

“They’re all interested in HD,” said Tom Hayden, general manager for Smithsonian Networks.

At first, the channel will rely solely on license fees from distributors for revenue. While distributors have been slow to add channels and increase subscriber fees, Mr. Hayden said they were paying for high-definition programming.


“Our customers are looking for high-quality HD content, and we believe the Smithsonian Channel’s programming will deliver that and more,” Derek Chang, executive VP of content strategy and development for DirecTV, said in a statement.

In its advertising, DirecTV is promising subscribers 70 HD channels by next month and as many as 100 by the end of the year.

Soon the Smithsonian Network will begin soliciting advertisers. Mr. Hayden said the channel initially will be pursuing a model similar to PBS, in which marketers act as sponsors in presenting shows, rather than run traditional spots.

At launch, the Smithsonian Network has 70 hours of high-definition programming ready to go. It has promised affiliates that it will have 100 hours by year end and will be adding 100 hours of new programming a year, Mr. Hayden said.

The network will schedule new programming in prime time and rerun shows in other dayparts.

Mr. Hayden said the network’s signature program will be “Stories From the Vaults.” The show features actor Tom Cavanagh (“Ed”), who goes behind the scenes at the museum to look at some of the 140 million items not on public display.

“He has his own brand of humor and he tells us some interesting stories,” Mr. Hayden said.

The channel will be available to DirecTV’s 16 million customers. It will appear on channel 267 of DirecTV’s HD Xtra Pack, which has fewer subscribers.

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