DirecTV: HD Is Sunday’s New 'Ticket'


Satellite service DirecTV is hoping more live high-definition offerings and features, as well as an enhanced broadband experience, will tackle more subscribers for its exclusive “NFL Sunday Ticket” package, which launches Sept. 7, the first full day of the 2008 pro football season.

The 17 million-subscriber satellite-TV service will offer more than 180 high-definition games as part of its $99 Sunday Ticket “SuperFan” package — an extension to the $299 out-of-market package, which offers live coverage up to 14 NFL games each Sunday.

Along with the additional HD games, DirecTV executive vice president of entertainment Eric Shanks said that the package's mosaic channel, featuring as many as eight games on one screen, will be delivered in HD.

DirecTV's exclusive Red Zone channel will also return in HD, allowing viewers to watch live action in games where a team is on the verge of scoring. Sunday Ticket subscribers can also access edited replays of each game on DirecTV from each Sunday night through Wednesday of the regular season, or have the games directly downloaded to their interactive DVR.

On the broadband side, DirecTV will provide additional enhancements to its online video service — the second season DirecTV will offer its exclusive package of live National Football League games over the Web as part of the Super fan offering — through Adobe Air, a new online player that will allow DirecTV to offer a richer online viewing experience.

Shanks said subscribers who use the broadband service can now pull up a live game while also watching highlights on the same screen. The interface is customizable, he added, so users can arrange and prioritize the live game-feed captions on the site.

“You can essentially pick the priority of games on the left side of the interface so you can have them in the order you want to tune into the games,” he said.

Shanks said the network should not have a repeat of last year's early-season online problems, when demand for the Internet service crashed its servers. “We learned that it's popular — we had some technical difficulties week one last year because too many people tried to get in at one time,” he said. “We've added new technology to handle the demand better.”

On the interactive front, DirecTV will continue to offer Sunday Ticket subscribers an interactive package that provides users with up-to-the-minute scores, stats and the day's leaders in key football categories at the push of a remote-control button, as well as an interactive player tracker which will allow users to follow the performance their fantasy football players.

“When Peyton Manning does anything to affect your fantasy team, an alert pops up to let you know what happened,” he said.

While Shanks would not reveal how many subscribers have signed up for Sunday Ticket — estimates place the number for the package between 1.5 million and 2 million — or the SuperFan services, he expects the HD enhancements to drive additional subscriptions.

“HD has grown tremendously over the last 12 months, so we expect to see more demand for the HD package than we did in the past,” he said. “We expect overall growth to remain steady compared to previous years — it's shaping up with some great stories this season, particularly with the [New York] Giants as world champions.”

As part of the marketing of Sunday Ticket, Shanks said the network is currently running a contest on its Web site to determine which city in the U.S. has the highest percentage of “displaced” NFL fans. Displaced fans submitting videos, blogs, essays and photos to DirecTV could win a grand prize trip to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa Bay next February, according to Shanks.

“We're rewarding the guy that's been most afflicted with displaced fan syndrome,” he said.

In addition, hard-core NFL fans can purchase from DirecTV's site an enhanced DirecTV universal remote control featuring the logo of their favorite team. Shanks said the company has sold 10,000 of the $30 remotes since it began offering them three weeks ago.