Ask LH: Why Isn’t The State Of Origin In HD?

Dear Lifehacker, Looking at the TV guide, I see that once again there is no high-definition (HD) broadcast for the State of Origin on Channel Nine. I will again have no other option but to watch a standard definition (SD) presentation of the game on my HD-ready plasma TV. What I can’t understand is why?

Maybe I am being petty but when compared to the HD, SD it is like chalk and cheese, especially when you’re watching on anything bigger then 26 inches. In 2010, Channel Nine broadcast the game in HD and in 3D. Three years on, when a greater number of persons have made the switch to digital and are likely to have a HD-ready TV, Channel Nine is broadcasting Origin on its SD channel while repeats of Customs and RPA occupy its HD channel, GEM. It is disappointing and makes no sense at all. What gives? Thanks, Original Sinner

Picture: James Tamou/Getty Images Sport

Dear OS,

The brutal and simple truth is that Nine isn’t broadcasting in HD because it doesn’t have to, and because not doing so will make it more money. Origin is consistently one of the highest-rating broadcasts of the year (the 2012 matches ranked #9, #12 and #14 overall), so it doesn’t really require additional sweeteners to entice viewers. Under the current NRL rights deal signed last year, Origin is also one of the few NRL games which Nine can broadcast live while Foxtel can’t. So it will run live on Nine and its affiliates in virtually every state (save WA where it will run live on GEM to avoid interfering with the equally lucrative 6pm news slot on the main channel).

Until digital switchover is completed, Nine is obliged to show Origin on its regular SD channel because it’s on the anti-siphoning list which the government uses to “protect” major sporting events. Nine could choose to simulcast it on GEM as well, but save for that one-off experiment in 2010, it hasn’t done so. The commercial logic is simple: the overall ratings aren’t going to be higher by doing so, and showing something different on GEM will give it a chance to charge more for advertising to a different audience. There may not be many people who want to watch RPA rather than Origin, but there will be some.

Is there a long-term risk in doing that, by alienating sports fans through substandard treatment? Possibly, but Nine knows that until 2017, NRL enthusiasts who want to watch Origin won’t have any other choice. Post 2014, Nine won’t be obligated to transmit on SD, since the whole country will be on digital, and its strategy could change. But details on how that changeover will work are still scarce, and with the TV industry overall attracting smaller audiences and fewer advertising dollars, HD simulcasts may not be a major selling point.

For 2013, you’ll have to remain firmly in an SD Origin universe — annoying, but that’s how it is. Nine is offering enhanced interaction through its Jump-In TV app, including slow-motion replays and multiple camera angles. That’s an interesting new development, but the image quality will, we imagine, be sub-SD for that footage.


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