News

A Sneak Peek At DBS ITV

12/19/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Attendees at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show will get a glimpse of the new interactive-TV features DirecTV Inc. expects to spring in the coming year.

They include the launch of three “mosaic channels” that will allow subscribers to view multiple channels from the same genre on one screen.

Similar in form to the OpenTV Corp.-made channels that EchoStar Communications Corp.’s Dish Network used during the Summer Olympics and the November election, the mosaic products are among the interactive features DirecTV will introduce to further turn up the heat on cable.

News Corp., which now controls DirecTV, has used ITV extensively on its United Kingdom satellite platform, British Sky Broadcasting plc.

The mosaic channels were developed in-house at DirecTV, according to spokesman Bob Marsocci.

The Newsmix channel will feature five or six feeds on one screen, he said, including Cable News Network, CNBC, Headline News, Fox News Channel and The Weather Channel.

Subscribers will be able to hear the audio from whichever channel is highlighted, and use arrows on their remote controls to listen to the feed from one of the other channels featured on the mosaic.

“It’s like a television control room on your screen,” Marsocci said.

Viewers will also be able to select one of the channels on the grid to view the traditional full-screen version.

Marsocci said DirecTV is building a soundstage and studio at its broadcast center in Los Angeles, which will be home to an anchor who’ll discuss the content on Newsmix and on a sports mosaic channel called Sportsmix.

DirecTV plans to unveil the mosaic networks, including a Kidsmix channel that will feature children’s networks, at CES in Las Vegas, which begins Jan. 6.

Marsocci wouldn’t offer details on Sportsmix or Kidsmix content, but said he assumed some of ESPN’s networks would be included. ESPN officials declined to comment last week.

DirecTV has also obtained a trademark for a Shoppingmix channel, but Marsocci said no date has been set for the launch of that network, which could feature shop-at-home networks.

With cable and satellite subscribers facing hundreds of channels to choose from, the use of mosaic channels might become a growing trend for both industries, which currently use interactive program guides to ease viewer navigation.

While IPGs allow viewers to scroll through program listings or search titles, mosaic channels could allow them to more easily find a movie, sports show or news program by being able to view multiple feeds from the same genre at the same time.

“We think it’s not really an IPG feature, but we think it’s a neat feature and a neat offering,” said Todd Walker, general manager of advanced TV at Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.’s TV Guide Television Group.

He added: “We don’t have any firm plans or products that we have to announce, but we are looking to put together this type of product.”

Walker said mosaic channels could also be used to ease navigation for the growing number of on-demand programming choices cable operators are offering.

One challenge cable and DBS providers face in developing mosaic channels is getting permission from content providers, some of which might not like sharing a screen with one or more competitors.

EchoStar was persuasive enough that during the November election it ran CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, MTV and Comedy Central on the same screen. DirecTV, too, has gained support from news networks.

Walker said he expects programmers to embrace the idea. “I would think they would greatly desire to fill one of those positions,” he said.