HDNet’s Mark Cuban

April 2007

By Anna Carugati

After becoming a billionaire through the sale of his company Broadcast.com to Yahoo!, Mark Cuban took a bet on television—not conventional TV, but high definition—and cofounded HDNet and HDNet Movies. As outspoken as he is entrepreneurial, he also set up movie-production companies, an art-house theater chain, a theatrical and home-video distributor, and took a minority stake in Lionsgate. He’s also the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, an NBA team. Cuban is nothing if not passionate about his businesses.

WS: How does the audience’s relationship with television change once they start watching programming in HD?

CUBAN: It’s a long-time American status symbol to get a big-screen TV. Now everyone can afford one, and the flat screens showing up in living rooms are bringing families back together to watch networks like ours. High-def networks are seeing growth in viewership as well as an increase in the number of hours spent watching TV in HDTV homes.

WS: How are advertisers responding to your channels?

CUBAN: They are the slowest of all. They love our programming, but have been slow to transition to producing their spots in HD. That is changing very quickly, �however, as the ad buyers are getting HD at home.

WS: As more and more channels repurpose their programming in HD, how will HDNet remain different and unique?

CUBAN: We will continue to add new, original, bold programming that viewers want to see. Keep one thing in mind that I don’t think most people understand—even though other channels may go HD in the future, they still have to protect the 90 million homes that [do not receive HD]. So they will produce shows protected for 4×3 [standard] TV viewership, which cheats high-def viewers, and that makes a difference. These channels will upconvert content and show content that can’t be converted to HD (shows shot on tape, movies shot in digital video, etcetera).

WS: Given your experience with 2929 Productions, what are the advantages of producing and releasing films digitally?

CUBAN: Time, money, creativity are all optimized. Movies in HD can be shown in digital cinemas looking exactly like the director saw them in the field. So there are a lot of business and creative opportunities.

WS: Can this be a way of reducing piracy?

CUBAN: In one sense, if shows are only shown in their full HD, then the file sizes prevent most users from downloading them because it takes days for most [Internet] connections. In reality, however, once it’s on TV in HD, anyone can aim an HD camcorder at the TV and then put that on the net. Piracy is nowhere near the problem the MPAA would like everyone to believe. People with more time than money will always find a way to get product for free. Particularly kids. Those same people wouldn’t buy the film if they didn’t steal, so I don’t consider it a real loss.

WS: Do you think MySpace and YouTube are passing trends?

CUBAN: They are hot today. They won’t be hot when the next hot thing comes along. Does anyone really think that 20 years from now we all will be looking at the MySpace pages we have had up for 20 years?

WS: Did Google make a good deal by buying YouTube?

CUBAN: Nope. They made a huge mistake by taking on all the liability of YouTube. Fortunately for Google, they have more money than Bill Gates and they can buy down their problems.

WS: You have said that the Internet is boring and broadband video is overrated.

CUBAN: The Internet has been mainstream for more than ten years. What’s new about it anymore? At some point all technologies become mainstream and boring; that was their goal when they were created.

The same applies to broadband. Anyone who works in a major company has been using high-speed digital networks for 20 years. More than 65 percent of Americans have broadband. Saying broadband is exciting is like saying a VCR is exciting. It is mainstream and just one more digital transport.

WS: As you look into the future, which media, platforms and devices do you think will emerge as consumer favorites?

CUBAN: I think handheld devices will be a source of a lot of excitement. We will be able to carry our lives around in our pockets. All our pictures, home movies, favorite movies, TV shows, even the voice-mail message your girlfriend left you when you asked her out for the first time, can be saved. We are no longer an analog country. We live a digital lifestyle, and the future will bring more ways to take our lives with us wherever we go.