Hi-def Super Bowl out for some, unless you've got rabbit ears

KTUU: Station left out because of satellite bandwidth constraints.

January 27, 2009 

Buffalo wings, chips and beer: Check.

Oversized high definition TV: Check.

Super Bowl feed in HD? Maybe not.

According to local NBC affiliate KTUU Channel 2, Anchorage residents who subscribe to satellite TV won't be getting the über-crisp feed allowing them to see drops of sweat shimmering on Ben Roethlisberger's brow or the individual blades of grass bending under Edgerrin James' cleats.

"DirecTV has chosen not to carry us in HD," KTUU program director Nancy Johnson said. "It requires more bandwidth on their part, so more of an investment for DirecTV to do it."

Dish Network likewise opted not to carry the station in high definition, she said. The game will still be available in HD on cable and over the air, meaning satellite subscribers who want the hi-def feed will need to go low-tech (read: antennae) to pick it up.

Anchorage experienced a similar problem come game time last year, when stalled negotiations between KTBY (FOX Channel 4) and GCI meant the cable company couldn't pick up the station's hi-def signal and viewers wanting the game in HD had to shell out for rabbit ears.

GCI officials claimed the station wanted money to carry its signal, a claim station officials denied.

Across the country, disputes over who should pay whom have in some cases prevented satellite carriers from picking up local stations in HD, GCI spokesman David Morris said. Whether local stations pay the service provider or vice versa varies by market -- there is no industry standard, he said.

"It's all over the place, and that's the reason you're seeing this type of thing," Morris said. "Your broadcaster is, typically from the business side, always going to ask the pay-TV company to pay something to rebroadcast their signal and in turn, the pay-TV provider is always going to say, 'No, we're not going to do that because we're extending the amount of eyeballs that you can advertise to.' "

Although satellite providers here do carry some local stations, like KTVA (CBS Channel 11) and KTBY, in HD, Johnson said the issue with KTUU wasn't money. The station isn't available because the other stations got aboard early and then the providers ran out of bandwidth to offer the NBC affiliate, she said.

"We didn't hold back from them getting the HD," KTUU general manager Susan Lucas said. "The last retransmission agreement specifically states that as soon as they are ready that they will pick up our HD signal."

DirecTV spokesman Robert Mercer said in an e-mail that the provider's retransmission agreement with NBC does not require that it carry the HD signal.

"We have exceptional capacity (or bandwidth) constraints in Alaska as a result of an FCC requirement that we carry the entire digital signal (HD and all multicasting feeds) of any must-carry station in the three Alaska designated market areas," he said.

Officials from Dish Network did not respond to inquiries this week.

Sure, everyone should still get the game in one form or another. So why the need for HD?

"It's the difference between watching VHS and a DVD, I would suppose," said local video producer Pete Cyril. "Honestly, some people are still happy watching VHS tapes. Those of us that have made the switch to DVD wonder why we ever messed with VHS in the first place."

Morris said GCI estimates it has a 60 percent share of the cable market, while satellite providers have about 14 percent or 15 percent, so this year's hi-def hiccup shouldn't have as widespread an impact as last year's.

When news that the Super Bowl wouldn't be available on cable broke last year, there was a rush on antennas at local retailers. So far this year, such a rush has been absent, said Michael Palmer, sales manager at the Midtown Radio Shack.

"A lot of people are running with GCI, so they're not too worried about it," Palmer said. "I don't think many of the people that are coming in here are aware that it's not going to be provided on satellite."

The lack of satellite hi-def coverage this year won't likely be a big issue at some of the larger bars in town. The Peanut Farm Bar and Grill gets its sports coverage from both satellite and cable, so the Super Bowl will be available in hi-def there Sunday, assistant manager Terri Ditty said.

Likewise, Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse gets both cable and satellite feeds for its sports-hungry patrons, floor manager Shawn Standley said.

"The only way to have all the games on, which we have to do during the season, is to have both, so we have eight satellite boxes plus three cable boxes," Standley said.

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

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