In Depth: How CNBC has Blown its HD Advantage…

When Bloomberg launched its HD feed a few weeks ago, I wondered whether it was just a graphical change or the video was all HD. Since the rollout has been limited so far – DirecTV hasn’t flipped Bloomberg HD yet and given how long it took to flip MSNBC HD (a year after it started) it will probably be a while – I didn’t know the answer until today. Today I saw a screengrab and the picture is definitely HD.

This leaves one cable news network carried widely in the US that hasn’t gone to full HD. Just one. CNBC. Al Jazeera isn’t carried widely here. Neither is BBC World News. Neither is CNNI but my understanding is CNNI isn’t HD yet either. HLN is HD now but isn’t widely distributed in HD yet.

CNBC was the second network in the US to offer an HD broadcast behind CNN (though CNN’s full rollout to pure HD was excruciatingly long and occurred in stages over a timespan of years). But CNBC’s sole change in HD was graphical in nature. It added an HD wing. It did nothing with the video.

Over the succeeding years, CNBC has stood and watched as it got passed by as FBN launched in full HD, FNC went full HD, MSNBC went full HD, HLN started down the HD road, and now Bloomberg US is in full HD. CNBC is the only remaining US based cable news network not to embrace full HD. And it was the second to launch an HD feed?

This got me to wondering “Why has CNBC stagnated on rolling out full HD?”

Could it be because it didn’t have the facilities to handle HD (Control rooms, etc..)? Well it does. CNBC’s Englewood Cliffs HQ serves as the Master Control backup for MSNBC and NBC Nightly News and it’s hot swappable. If they can control HD for those broadcasts, they can do it for their own.

Is it because CNBC hasn’t made the capital investments in swapping out the old SD cameras for HD versions? According to my sources, they have. Though it’s not clear that they have done it for all their sets. Remember, Englewood Cliffs is huge and has several studios dedicated for specific shows. You can’t just move those HD cameras around. They have to have enough cameras to cover all those sets.

The more digging I did the more puzzling this became. CNBC apparently has the proper infrastructure to handle an HD switchover and yet it has refused to do so. CNBC Europe’s London set is also fully HD capable but hasn’t been switched on. I don’t know the HD status of CNBC Asia’s studios.

One area that may be an issue is the graphics for the shows. CNBC’s wing and crawl may be HD but are all the graphics for all the shows…the splash screens, the animations, etc…now re-rendered for HD display? That would be a costly endeavor but the network has had years to work on this so the cost could have been spread out during that time by doing it in stages to make it more palatable.

CNBC hasn’t commented publicly on the HD subject. Privately however, I’ve heard stories from a couple of sources that the network has no plans to go HD in the foreseeable future. Worse, some of the reasons I’ve heard for that decision are pretty weak. I’ve heard that while the network has HD capability in Englewood Cliffs it has no HD control over remote feeds and trading floors. Well FBN manages just fine. It has full HD cameras on the floor of the NYSE and it has no qualms about showing the odd SD video feed from a remote location. Is CNBC admitting it won’t do what FBN can? All the networks that are currently HD air SD feeds on occasion and seem to have no problem with doing so. And those SD feeds are getting lesser and lesser all the time as more studios and remotes switch over to HD.

This isn’t 2007 with HD just starting to achieve penetration in the market. It’s 2011 and HD is well entrenched. The HD landscape has changed since CNBC first went HD and the network has not kept up. It stood pat. It’s now lagging well behind everyone else even though it apparently has the infrastructure capability to make the switch. This is inexcusable. It’s the stuff jokes are made for. It reflects badly upon CNBC and the network should move with all deliberate haste to launch full HD broadcasts as soon as possible. CNBC is no longer an HD leader. It’s now a straggler.

4 Responses to “In Depth: How CNBC has Blown its HD Advantage…”

  1. In transitioning to HD, would them actually pushing for HD video/graphics, but keeping the sidebar setup still qualify? As I remember, FBN still does the HD Wing on their HD service, and Bloomberg has a similar item present there as well. But still, it is stunning how bad their video can look ala the HD signal, myself watching a recorded copy of the Closing Bell every day.

  2. My first read through this left me thinking it was really no big deal… many probably have CNBC on throughout the day as background noise that alerts them to breaking financial news while they’re working. On second thought, though, this does seem really dumb. It took a considerable investment to get them to the point they are currently at and it’s mostly being wasted. Almost makes me wonder if there’s some contractual clause with a vendor they’re being held to that’s making the next step too expensive to take.

  3. Well it’s not a union thing that’s for sure. They moved to New Jersey in the first place to get away from the unions.

  4. foxywatcher Says:

    I would guess that Comcast will have them all HD by the time the next Olympics come around.

    Watch out because Comcast will be putting Olympics on every channel they can get away with.

    But in reality does it matter if a business channel is HD or not? Other than nudity / travel shows and sports do you really need it in HD?

    On a typical Time Warner digital cable lineup you will find FNC/CNN and others in the 40’s on the dial. But their HD channels are in the 200 or 300’s.

    I wonder what the breakdown is of people with HD TV’s that watch the HD version as opposed to the one on the lower dial. That would be a guestion to look into.

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