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Zenith Joins ABC on HDTV


Zenith Electronics Corp. will underwrite high-definition broadcasts of ABC's prime-time comedies, dramas and movies for the TV season that begins in mid-September, the two companies announced Wednesday.

CBS separately announced that Zenith and Samsung Electronics America will sponsor the network's 18 programs broadcast in high definition. This is the fourth year that CBS, owned by Viacom Inc., has broadcast its prime-time programs, with the exception of news and reality shows, in high definition.

Financial details of the deals were not disclosed, but ABC plans to run on-air billboards at the start of each program advertising Zenith as the network's HDTV sponsor. CBS, which partnered with Zenith and Samsung last year, will run similar spots before the broadcasts.

ABC, owned by Walt Disney Co., will air at least 13 hours a week in high definition, including "NYPD Blue," "The Practice" and "Alias." Most of ABC's programs are shot on film and converted to digital. This fall, there will be eight shows shot digitally, said Alex Wallau, president of the ABC Television network.

This is the second year that ABC is offering the bulk of its prime-time lineup in high definition.

ABC had an arrangement three years ago with Panasonic to produce digital broadcasts of "Monday Night Football" but that partnership ended. Football and special events that ABC will carry next year such as the Academy Awards, the NBA championships and the Super Bowl, "are the next logical place for us to go," Wallau said.

The Federal Communications Commission has required network-owned and affiliate stations of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox in the nation's largest markets to be on the air with a digital signal for nearly three years.

Congress set a 2006 target date to convert analog television, the current standard, to digital, which will allow for high-definition pictures, clearer sound, more channels and interactivity.

Earlier this month, the FCC accelerated the nation's conversion to digital television by giving TV manufacturers a 2007 deadline to equip most new sets with tuners that will offer viewers better-quality pictures and enhanced sound.

ABC is playing its part, said Wallau.

"We want to do everything we can to drive the adaptation of this format because we have a significant investment--particularly on the station level," Wallau said. "Every station has spent millions of dollars adding this technology."

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