| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Film and television studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc unveiled plans on Tuesday to launch a high-definition television channel this fall on the DirecTV satellite service with a mix of movies and original programs.
The channel is MGM's first stand-alone HD service in the United States and it marks a major expansion for the studio.
Chief Executive Harry Sloan called the launch a "milestone event" for MGM, the home of the James Bond film franchise.
"To grow significantly, we need to build assets. Over the last few years, we've launched channels all over Europe and now an HD channel in the U.S. gives us that growth opportunity" here, Sloan told Reuters.
He declined to discuss financial details.
For DirecTV, the deal helps bolster content for its plans to roll out 100 new HD channels by the end of this year.
HD, the high-definition digital TV standard that offers viewers sharper pictures and better sound, is expected to be a major growth opportunity. U.S. officials are mandating a switch from analog to digital signals and HD is widely seen as being adopted over lower quality standard definition, or SD.
Moreover, satellite and cable TV providers are expected to promote HD heavily to boost their own subscriber growth. The number of U.S. homes receiving HD signals is expected to reach as high as 40 million by 2012, researchers forecast.
MGM owns a library of more than 4,100 movies and Sloan said the company already has converted 1,200 titles to HD. Beyond replaying old movies, the MGM Channel is expected to provide original shows such as behind-the-scenes tales from making new movies or live coverage of red carpet premieres.
Sloan said the new MGM HD channel is getting good response from other satellite and cable TV operators.
"We expect shortly to announce other platforms and expect channels to be well-received," Sloan said.
Sloan took over management of MGM in 2005 following its acquisition by an investor group. Since then, he has embarked on several growth initiatives, including launching MGM TV channels overseas and partnering with Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner to revamp the old United Artists film label.
MGM is owned by private equity firms Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group and others, as well as media and electronics company Sony Corp (6758.T) and cable TV operator Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O).
DirecTV is controlled by News Corp NWSa.N, but it has agreed to swap its controlling stake to Liberty Media Corp LCAPA.O, a deal that awaits regulatory approval.