Mark CubanWhat a fantastic opportunity we had earlier this week: a chance to interview Mark Cuban. Mark is known as an intelligent and influential industry maven in the high-def world, and after we touched base, I can see why.

Many of you that watch HDTV today can thank Mark, as he saw (and embraced) the high-def movement long before it became what it is today. HDNet started up in 2001 as a 1080i, high-def only programming network. Even today, four years later, HDNet produces and broadcasts more HDTV programming than any other network.

Aside from co-founding the HDNet channel, Mark is also the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. We know that Mark's time is limited and valuable, so we tried to focus on a few key questions that would provide HD Beat readers with Mark's keen insight. So, let's get right to it, shall we?

HD Beat (HDB): Mark, first of all, I'd like to thank you up front for your time. We don't want to take too much it because we want to see more awesome programming form HDNet! Hey, we'll even do some pre-season cheers for the Dallas Mavericks too.

Mark, take us back to 2001 and prior. You and Philip Garvin launched HDNet well before HD really took off. When did you start planning the vision for HDNet and what was the compelling reason to become the first high-def network well before HDTV became 'mainstream'?

Mark Cuban (MC): We knew that the price points of HDTV sets were going to drop like a rock and bandwidth was going to be constrained to deliver programming. We figured that if we can put together programming assets before everyone else even started thinking about HD, we would be ahead of the game. Plus if we could get carriage on forward thinking distributors like Dish, DIRECTV, Charter and TW, we would have enough foundation to grow with the HDTV market.

HDB: HDNet is clearly a leader in the high-def programming space, but has HDNet met the vision you originally planned, or is there more work to be done?

MC: The consumer growth has happened faster than I expected, the acceptance by cable channels slower. But there hasn't been any more or less work than I expected. It's not hard to produce in HD, it all still comes down to quality programming.

Unlike other startup channels, we were limited in how much content we could license since it had to be in HD. So we knew we would start off slowly, but quickly evolve our schedule to be original content. Today 15 of 21 hours every week are produced by HDNet.

HDB: How would you describe the current state of HDTV here in the United States? We're seeing a greater penetration with declining HDTV prices and additional HDTV programming on major networks, so how much growth do you see for the industry?

MC: It's like the Internet. It happens as price points decline, but unfortunately, like the net, the media (HD Beat excluded), usually is last to get technology at home. So they always write that it's slower than excepted. Then the writers get it at home, love it and all of a sudden, they knew HDTV was the future all along.

HDB: We've got DTV legislation on the books in less than two weeks. What do you think we should do for people that still have analog sets? Should any required analog-to-digital converters be subsidized by the government, or do we just say, 'you should have seen this coming, folks' and let the chips fall where they may?

MC: I think we let the market take care of it. An analog set is an opportunity for cable and satellite to compete with each other. The marginal cost of a converter added to a set top box or PC will become increasingly minor. There is already a lifeline service that cable companies must offer. We can just expand that lifeline service to include some analog to digital converters .
 
On top of that, by the time anything really happens, wireless will be much further along. So we will have more options.
 
Finally, there is national security value in the digital spectrum. Since when did being able to watch Barney Rubble from an antenna become a priority over national security and first responder capabilities? At some point maybe politicians will stop trying to get their asses kissed by voters and do the right thing.

HDB: Have you had a chance to dabble with a Microsoft Windows Media Center PC and HDTV programming?

MC: I'm working on one right now.

HDB: Interesting. So what do you think: will Microsoft become a market leader in the HDTV space and why or why not?

MC: Too early to tell. It really depends on what happens with the two-way cable card. That's the key to the Media Center being a true HD PVR and server. Until then, a server that can't capture cable or satellite channels like HDNet and HDNet Movies is pretty worthless as an HDTV enabler.
 
I actually think the XBox 360 will have a far greater impact on HDTV sales and home use. For 300 bucks, it will work as a Windows Media/HD-DVD device. It's easy to put content in that format and HDNet will certainly sell our content that way.

HDB: Mark, we know that HDNet has partnered with Red Swoosh and Box.net for high definition video downloads. Do you see this as a growing space for HDNet or is this more of an 'add-on' HD service?

MC: It's just an alternative delivery channel to supplement HDNet's traditional delivery. It won't be competitive. It will be promotional.

HDB: The non-traditional release of Steven Soderbergh's recent high-def films in theaters, on DVD and on HDNet simultaneously caused some controversy with the movie industry. What's the thinking behind multi-channel distribution? Was this just a 'test of the waters' or do you think this will become more acceptable within the film industry?

MC: This is about giving consumers what they want, where and when they want it. If theaters don't like it, that's their problem, not ours. We are working to create incremental value by doing things like offering a free soundtrack download for people who attend "The War Within" at Landmark Theaters. By creating more value for the theater-going experience, we think people who want to get out of the house, will go to a theater. Those who can't will stay home and watch it on HDNet Movies, and those who aren't smart enough (*smiles*) to subscribe to HDNet Movies, can buy it on DVD.
 
If you really want to see the studios upset, wait until we release all of our DVDs uncopyprotected and have an option for people to pay a few bucks more and get an AVI, WMV or DivX version they can easily copy on to their laptops, media servers or flash drives to watch the movie where and when they want and have a backup as well.
 
I see no reason to treat my customers like criminals.

HDB: Mark, in your opinion, what's 'the next big thing' in high-definition television? 1080p seems to be the big buzzword, but are we overlooking something else?

MC: We aren't ready for the next big thing yet. We are still in the midst of HDTV becoming the next big thing.

HDB: Ok Mark, we gotta ask this one before we close up: when you're not watching HDTV programming on HDNet, what high-def shows are you watching and why?

MC: I like football on CBS and Fox, although I'm spoiled with 1080i and hate watching things in 720p.  I also watch Law & Order: SVU.

HDB: Real quick: what HDTV(s) do you personally own or are you looking to buy?

MC: I have an RCA 32-inch that I use as a PC monitor and playback device, a Sony 32-inch in my home office, a Zenith 50-inch plasma in my bedroom, a JVC 27-inch and Buffalo HD DVD in my work office and a big screen I'm getting installed, but I'm under NDA (on that unit).

HDB: That's some serious gear! Mark, thank you again for your time and insights. HD Beat sincerely appreciates your thoughts and we hope you have time for interviews in the future.

MC: Thanks.

There you have it: the HD Beat exclusive interview with Mark Cuban. We'd like to thank Mark once again for his time and his thoughts. This was a real treat as an interviewer and we hope the readers enjoyed it as well.

The Tungsten TX is close, so close