Coming soon: soap operas in sparkling high definition

Coming soon: soap operas in sparkling high definition

New Delhi: Now you can have a cinema-like experience while watching your favourite soaps. Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) such as Star Plus, Zee TV, Sony and Imagine are getting ready to offer their top-rated dramas in high definition (HD).

For starters, Dor, which Star Plus will start showing in February, is being shot entirely in HD by UTV Television, the content arm of UTV Software Communications Ltd. Indrajit Ray, UTV Television’s chief creative officer, said the content company has been getting requests from broadcasters to shoot in the format that allows a greater level of detail than traditional video, thus making for an enhanced viewership experience, akin to film. “In the next two years, high definition will grow in the entertainment space on television. Viewers are demanding quality and we have to be prepared."

Channels such as Star will also start shooting new episodes of existing serials in HD early next year. The format also uses higher quality of 5.1 Dolby sound.

“Four of our channels will go high-definition next year," said Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer, Star India Pvt Ltd. These channels will include Star Plus, Star World, Star Gold and Star Movies.

To be sure, viewers will not only need to invest in television sets capable of handling HD, but will also need to subscribe to direct-to-home (DTH) packages that are more expensive than the standard ones.

Star India is not the only one tapping the advanced, costlier technology. State-owned Doordarshan (DD) is also getting HD ready. “In the coming year current affairs, news and serials will be shot in HD. The ministry has sanctioned 145 crore to convert DD’s existing studios into high definition by 2012," said Aruna Sharma, director general, DD.

Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd will shoot its new food channel Khana Khazana in the HD format, said a company executive who did not want to be identified as the plans are still under wraps.

“The technology is expensive and shooting episodes escalates the cost of production significantly," he said. For instance, if the cost of a fiction show on a Hindi GEC is 10 lakh an episode, shooting it with special HD cameras and other equipment would increase it by 15-40%, according to industry estimates.

Imagine, owned by Turner General Entertainment Networks India Pvt. Ltd, will soon offer two serials—a period drama and a family drama—in HD. Saurabh Tewari, head of programming, Imagine, said what makes the format a winner is its depth and picture clarity. The production cost of the two shows is expected to escalate by 60-70 lakh a year because of the new format.

According to Tewari, “Colours, costumes, frames and outdoor shots stand out in HD. The good news is that HD will allow us to think of offering variety in content. It’s a major reason we’ve been able to offer a historical serial," added Tewari.

Sony, the flagship Hindi GEC of Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSML), hopes to shoot reality shows in HD, said Ajit Singh Thakur, executive vice-president and business head, at the company. Even MTV, the music channel from Viacom 18 Media Pvt. Ltd, is shooting its new season of reality show Splitsvilla in HD.

HD format lends itself well to niche channels—Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific launched Discovery HD World in March this year as India’s first fully HD channel.

To be sure, HD poses challenges too. For a start, the Zee executive said that cinematographers and art directors for HD will be hard to find as the format needs re-orientation of present skills. Thakur of Sony agrees: “The challenge lies in getting trained people who know how to use the technical equipment needed in HD. The investments, the camerapersons, a lot needs to be done."

UTV’s Ray finds a shortage of equipment suppliers. “The entire value chain, and not just content providers and broadcasters, will have to change from standard definition to making high definition format available," he said.

That’s not all. The biggest challenge is that HD transmissions occupy the space of four standard channels. However, that’s an area DTH providers are tackling by offering special HD set-top boxes, which are more expensive than standard offerings.

Dish TV, which began offering its HD services in mid-2010, for instance, has priced its HD set-top box at 3,000. A standard Dish TV set-top box costs 1,000.

Rohit Pandit, business head, home entertainment division, LG, however, says that the HDTV market is still minuscule in terms of value, but it will grow 80% next year. The cost of an LG HDTV set is approximately 35,000 for a 32 inch TV.

There will need to be a wider variety of choice on offer before more viewers make the shift.

“The real value in high definition television viewing will come when 20, and not just four-five channels, will be offered to audiences," said Sanjay Gupta of Star.