DBS Shows Its Wares at CES

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Las Vegas -- DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. unveiled new technology arsenals aimed at luring more cable subscribers to satellite, from digital-video recorders equipped with caller-ID technology to portable media players and interactive-TV services.

EchoStar drew the ire of some cable executives attending the Consumer Electronics Show here after it announced plans to roll out a video-on-demand service in March.

Unlike VOD offerings from cable MSOs such as Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable, which distribute content to customers via servers located at headends, EchoStar’s VOD service will run on new satellite receivers that will store 200 hours of content -- 100 hours of pay and free movies and television programs that EchoStar will download to the set-tops automatically, and 100 hours of content that subscribers can record on their own.

EchoStar is taking a shot across the bow of the cable industry by placing DVR and VOD content in the same boat.

EchoStar Communications Corp. chairman and CEO Charles Ergen said EchoStar’s VOD service will offer a combination of pay and free content.

The company was still finalizing how it would determine which free basic-cable or broadcast shows it would download automatically to its new “DISHPlayer-DVR 625” receiver.

Ergen said EchoStar may monitor the viewing habits of subscribers who agree to be tracked in order to determine which shows to offer. He added that the company may also simply download the most highly rated programs to the DVRs, citing ABC’s Monday Night Football as an example.

Pay movies that are downloaded to the DVRs may reside on the set-tops for a few weeks. But the movies will automatically be erased 24 hours after subscribers buy them, Ergen said.

Both DirecTV and EchoStar touted new interactive-TV services, portable media players and multiroom DVRs at CES -- three technology offerings that haven’t yet been deployed by most cable operators.

EchoStar said it would soon launch an interactive shopping channel that will allow customers to buy products from The Sharper Image with a click of a remote.

The DBS firm is also launching Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc.’s TVG horse-racing channel, and it said it will collect bets from subscribers who live in states that allow remote gambling.

And EchoStar is rolling out a karaoke channel that will let customers sing along with songs and lyrics that will be displayed on their television.

DirecTV also took the wraps off of three new interactive mosaic channels -- Newsmix, Sportsmix and Kidsmix -- that allow subscribers to view multiple networks from the same genre on the same screen.

DirecTV drew a lot of attention here with its new “DirecTV DVR,” which it said will become commercially available in mid-2005.

The interactive DVR offers on-screen caller ID and a “viewmarks” feature that will allow subscribers to mark favorite places in shows recorded on the DVR.

The DVR also contains a “record now/ pay later” feature that will allow subscribers to store pay-per-view movies on the receiver and only pay for content they view.

DirecTV added new advanced search functions to the DVR that will allow viewers to search for content according to program title, genre, actors, directors or keywords in upcoming shows or programs they’ve already recorded.

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