Cable operators love airing exclusive programming to keep
their subscribers on board. And last month's Shania Twain concert on DirecTv shows
that satellite services are serious about playing the same game.
Direct-broadcast satellite companies see these shows as
ways to promote other services, to retain subscribers and to set themselves apart from
other multichannel-video providers.
"The future for us will continue to be in remaining
differentiated from the competition," said Stephanie Campbell, senior vice president
of programming for DirecTv Inc.
The company has programmed a mix of free and pay-per-view
specials, series and sports to lure customers using its 200-plus-channel capacity to
showcase original programs.
The "NFL Sunday Ticket" National Football League
package is DirecTv's most well-known exclusive original offering, but other,
lower-profile shows are attracting notice from subscribers, as well.
In the past year, the company has begun offering original
special-events programming and a weekly music-magazine series created just for DirecTv.
And early next year, DirecTv will launch an original PPV series created by Action
The Sept. 12 "free" Twain concert -- scheduled
for an October replay -- was DirecTv's initial exclusive live-music effort.
Through a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Pay-TV, Cable and
Network Features, DirecTv launched a weekly music series this past February, In Tune,
available free-of-charge to all DirecTv subscribers.
Early next year, DirecTv will launch an exclusive first-run
action/adventure series on PPV. Campbell said the first AAN-produced series will be based
on the book The Lost World, and it will be directed by John Landis.
"It's the most exciting thing that we've
done to date," Campbell added.
The Lost World will debut with a movie pilot, followed
by 22 one-hour episodes. DirecTv has not set pricing and launch dates. Campbell predicted
that DirecTv would start promoting the series one month before its launch.
"Action-adventure movies work well on
pay-per-view," Campbell said, "so I'm pretty optimistic that we'll get
a good response."
DirecTv has already moved beyond traditional PPV-movie
offerings with its time-shifted Days of Our Lives exclusive. And although the
material is not exactly new, DirecTv recently won exclusive rights to air new compilations
of The Johnny Carson Show, a weekly, one-hour, commercial-free PPV series.
DirecTv was the first of the DBS companies to offer Dolby
Digital-encoded PPV movies that play on specially featured receivers. The company also
hopes to set itself apart from the multichannel competition by embracing high-definition
television early on, supporting HDTV with both hardware upgrades and PPV channels in HDTV.
"I can see us doing original high-definition
programming," Campbell said. "There's a serious need for high-definition
programming so we can all roll these new products out."
She predicted that the company might do its first original
HDTV programming deals next year, adding that sports and movies lend themselves well to
Eventually, DirecTv hopes to produce its own original
programming, once the company reaches a certain subscriber level, Campbell said. To
produce on its own, DirecTv also needs to develop the necessary contacts to make quality
programming that would have "life and legs outside of DirecTv," she added.
Being able to resell programming to other video providers
is a big factor, Campbell said, "because this is not inexpensive. It won't be
our only consideration, but you can't do these things alone."
U.S. Satellite Broadcasting, which shares the Digital
Satellite System platform with DirecTv, has a different philosophy when it comes to
Rick Abbott, director of on-air broadcasting at USSB, said
he doesn't think that the company will ever sell its original programming to anyone
"We're not looking to make a buck on this,"
he said. "We like that it's exclusive to DSS subscribers."
USSB's original programming falls mainly into two
categories: behind-the-scenes movie showcases and boxing exclusives. Both help to steer
DirecTv and USSB subscribers to USSB's premium-movie channels and special-events
"Our edict is to make the viewer smarter," Abbott
Abbott added that USSB plans to produce more celebrity
one-on-ones and behind-the-scenes moviemaking profiles in the future.
"It's a teaser for non-USSB subscribers,"
Abbott said. "And if you are a subscriber, it helps you to make a decision of what
you want to watch. It can be hard to decide with over 200 channels."
Over a year ago, USSB signed an exclusive deal with Don
King Productions for a minimum of four boxing matches per year, produced under the series
title, Don King: Only in America.
Colleen Galloway, director of PPV for USSB, said the
company offers the fights free to its own subscribers and via PPV to DirecTv-only
"We view this as a program that allows us to help
retain USSB subscribers and to offer added value that they can't get elsewhere,"
To help promote the genre even further, USSB produces
profiles on some of the boxers, as well as airing an exclusive daily boxing update on its
All News Channel.
"The fact that HBO [Home Box Office] and Showtime both
offer boxing allows us to really stand behind the claim that the best boxing on TV is on
USSB," Galloway said.
USSB plugs its fights through on-air marketing and, when
time permits, through billstuffers. The company also uses the electronic messaging system
built into DSS receivers to alert fans about upcoming events.
Ethnic-American Broadcasting Co. -- which offers a number
of foreign-language services through DirecTv, as well as through some cable systems -- has
studios in Fort Lee, N.J., and Los Angeles, where it produces local content for its
Russian channel, WMMB.
According to Murray Klippenstein, executive vice president
of corporate development for EABC, the company produces everything from news and talk
shows to live events held here in the United States.
"We book performance space and bring in live
audiences," he said. "We do all kinds of things -- everything but soap operas
and movies, the high-expense productions. We buy that programming from overseas
Klippenstein said foreign-language programming produced
specifically for U.S. audiences "creates a cultural bridge" that allows
immigrants to better understand their new economy and culture.
And in the future, EABC may sell its programming to
audiences overseas, as well.
"If we do a segment called 'The Hollywood
Review' in Russian, we could make a lot," Klippenstein said. "America sells
very well overseas."
EchoStar Communications Corp., on the other hand, is not
likely to find a secondary market for its original programming. The company currently
produces two new"Charlie Chats" each month -- an on-air talk between
chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen and his dealers, and another talk with Ergen and Dish
"We have the technology," said Mary Peterson,
vice president of marketing for EchoStar, in explaining why the company produces the
chats, "and it would be a shame not to do these highly targeted broadcasts for our
dealers and our customers. Cable can't do this."
The two monthly Charlie Chats are air live from a studio in
the company's headquarters in Littleton, Colo. Peterson said the shows start with a
script written by the marketing department, "but we don't script what Charlie
And while the audience-penetration levels are smaller for
the Dish Network subscriber base, Ergen's chats still draw a loyal following.
"We've had as many as 3,000 phone calls and 1,000
e-mails during the chat itself," Peterson said, "and literally hundreds of
letters and e-mails ahead of time." About one-half of the questions sent in deal with
programming, she added.
This past weekend (Oct. 3), EchoStar launched its original Dish
for Kids show -- a weekly, 15-minute feature designed to alert children to exceptional
family-oriented programming scheduled to air on Dish Network during the following week.
PrimeStar Inc. has nothing in the works as far as original
programming, according to a spokesman.
Unity Motion, a start-up company based in St. Louis,
started delivering an HDTV feed 24 hours per day via its own satellite service Sept. 26.
According to a press release, Unity Motion will feature general entertainment, including
movies, sports, travel, children's programs, animation, art, music and special