Cable Operators

Getting Customers To Step Up to Satellite

3/10/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

Aaron McNally is a News Corp. veteran who launched several networks for Rupert Murdoch in Latin America in the early 1990s. Now McNally is putting his knowledge of international programming to use as the chief of DirecTV Inc.’s foreign-language offerings in the U.S.

McNally, the satellite provider’s vice president of international, oversees WorldDirect, the umbrella name for the a la carte premium services from the satellite provider. Recently, McNally was also given responsibility for Para Todos, the company’s Spanish-language tiers.

About 1 million of DirecTV’s 15 million customers subscribe to either WorldDirect or Para Todos, according to McNally.

WorldDirect includes a variety of premium packages that, in total, encompass 32 international networks in 11 languages. Some of those networks are sold a la carte on a standalone basis, while others are bundled together.

For example, VietnameseDirect is just one network, sold for $14.99 a month, while HindiDirect is a tier of five channels for $29.99 a month.

“To get customers to step up to satellite, we like to offer a bouquet of channels in a single language,” McNally said.

To get any of the WorldDirect services, a customer used to have to first “buy through,” or subscribe to DirecTV’s Total Choice package, which is $44.99 a month. But DirecTV has introduced two lower-priced English-language base packages, Direct Basic at $9.99 and Direct Preferred Choices at $29.99, that customers can sign up for and then subscribe to a WorldDirect offering.

The Para Todos packages each include 55 Spanish-language networks, as well as English-language programming. For example, at $29.99, the Para Todos Seleccion Extra package includes DirecTV’s Spanish-language channels, as well as what is essentially English-language lifeline service: local over-the-air stations, public-interest networks and shopping channels. The Seleccion Mas Para Todos package, at $39.99, adds in the major English-language basic-cable networks.

With its Spanish-language packages, DirecTV has been adding services to target specific underserved segments of the Hispanic population, according to McNally. For example, it is offering WAPA from Puerto Rico, and Caracol, the top Colombian channel.

WorldDirect breaks its markets into East Asia, South Asian, Europe and the Middle East. Of those, East Asians are DirecTV’s strongest market, “and definitely has the strongest growth rates of any of the four regions that we look after,” McNally said.

DirecTV decides on the tiers it will launch by studying demographics, U.S. Census data, household income, education levels, and the growth rate for ethnic groups speaking particular languages, according to McNally.

In December, WorldDirect launched RussianDirect, which includes four networks for $29.99 a month. The U.S. Russian population, McNally said, is “growing incredibly fast and is a great target market for us.”

September