News

DirecTV Defines Its Plans

9/14/2007 8:00 PM Eastern

Using an Emmy Awards party as part of its promotion, DirecTV is gearing up for the much-ballyhooed expansion of its high-definition television lineup, which will include the creation of a tier of HD-only channels.

The new tier will include services that exist only in high definition, and are not simulcasts of standard-definition networks, DirecTV confirmed last week. This DirecTV HD Extra Pack, priced at $4.99 a month, will be just one part of the company’s overall revamping and relaunch of its HDTV platform.

DirecTV, the nation’s largest direct-broadcast satellite provider, last week told customers it would start the HDTV rollout this month, and that by the end of the year will be offering up to 100 national channels in HD.

At least at one point, the kickoff of DirecTV’s HDTV expansion appeared to have been set for this Wednesday, Sept. 19. That was the date cited in an internal DirecTV document first posted on the Web site Satelliteguys.us.

STILL IN THE WORKS

But last week, DirecTV vice president of public relations Darris Gringeri said much of the information in that document was outdated and that the satellite provider is still finalizing its HDTV plans.

Although DirecTV is being coy about providing a specific HD launch date, it is sparing no expense to hype the rollout. This past Sunday, the satellite provider was set to host its first annual Emmy party, called the DirecTV 100 HD Emmy Party, in West Hollywood, Calif., to tout its HDTV expansion.

DirecTV has now posted information on its Web site about its HD rollout, telling customers that it will start launching its new high-definition lineup in September and will continue to add new channels in the format through the end of the year. Officials have previously said they expect to have more than 70 HD services available this fall.

The leaked DirecTV memo said the satellite company would create a tier of “unique HD services” — HDNet, HDNet Movies, Universal HD, MHD, MGM HD and Smithsonian HD, which don’t have companion standard-definition services — that would be called the “DirecTV HD Extra Pack.” The memo put pricing for that tier at $4.99 a month.

Gringeri confirmed there will be a tier of HD-only services, but said what will be included is still being determined. DirecTV also confirmed that there will be a $4.99 fee, in addition to its monthly $9.99 HD Access fee, for those who want to get the HD-only tier.

“They are unique channels [with no SD equivalent] and have costs associated with them,” Gringeri said. “It is still being decided what channels will go into that new tier.”

DirecTV is already offering HDNet, HDNet Movies and Universal HD as part of its $9.99 HD Access service. So if those three networks are in fact moved and made part of the HD-only Extra Pack tier, it means DirecTV HD subscribers would have to start paying the extra $4.99 to continue to receive them. But DirecTV officials pointed out that still, its HD Access customers will be getting 100 new HD channels this year for the same price they are paying now, $9.99.

The internal document that DirecTV said is outdated was anonymously posted on the Reader’s Forum on www.satelliteguys.us, according to Scott Greczkowski, who operates the site and writes a separate blog, “The Satellite Dish,” for Multichannel News.

BLASTING OFF SEPT. 19

On a page titled “DirecTV HD Extra Pack,” the DirecTV memo says that what it calls “the new satellite launch” will take place Sept. 19. The memo, reviewed by Multichannel News last week, said that HD simulcast services will be included as part of a subscriber’s “relevant base package,” such as Choice.

“DirecTV HD customers will continue to pay the same $9.99 HD Access fee, which is really a technology fee that allows customers to receive all the HD programming associated with their relevant base programming package, including up to 100 HD channels DirecTV will launch by the end of 2007,” Gringeri said.

The separate $4.99 fee will be applied to subscribers who choose to get the DirecTV HD Extra Pack, which includes the “unique” HD-only networks, according to DirecTV.

The number of HD simulcast channels a DirecTV customer gets will be determined by their base monthly package.

On its Web site, DirecTV explained to subscribers: “For the channels in your current programming package, you’ll automatically receive the HD versions that are offered as long as you have the HD Access service. For example, if you get ESPN in your current package, and you have or add HD Access, you’ll receive ESPN HD. If you subscribe to HBO you’ll be able to receive the HBO HD channels if you have or add HD Access.”

So subscribers to DirecTV’s top-of-the-line $99.99-a-month Premier package, who also subscribe to HD Access, will be able to receive the most HD channels that the satellite provider is carrying.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, DirecTV first unveiled its plans to have the capacity to offer 150 national HDTV channels, adding that it had done HD carriage deals with dozens of networks. The satellite service later said the first phase of that rollout would take place in September, and then later put the timeframe at the end of the third quarter, with about 70 HDTV networks debuting then and more to be added throughout the rest of the year.

On its Web site, DirecTV includes a list of HD channels that it says will be “coming soon,” including Fox Business Channel, FX, CNN, Big Ten Network, Versus, Bravo and The History Channel.