New York -- After a brief soft launch, Ethnic American Broadcasting Co. late
this month will begin marketing its first six channels on DSS-II, the
fixed-satellite-system hardware platform created for DirecTv Inc.'s niche services.
DirecTv sister company Hughes Network Services designed DSS-II to pick up
programming from DirecTv's current direct-broadcast satellites at 101 degrees west
longitude, as well as from PanAmSat Corp.'s Galaxy III-R satellite at 95 degrees
west, where the new niche services will be uplinked. DSS-II incorporates a new
receiver/decoder, as well as a new, larger, elliptical dish.
With access to four transponders on GIII-R, EABC will be
able to deliver up to 20 channels of foreign-language programming. This month, the company
will launch six services: WMNB-TV (Russian); Network Asia; Ukrainian Broadcasting Network;
Ciao TV: The Italian Superchannel; and the Egyptian Channel and Nile Drama (both Arabic).
Other channels slated by EABC for distribution on DSS-II
include ECom (Mandarin Chinese); ERT: Greek Television; VIVA Cinema (Filipino); and Sony
Entertainment Television Asia (Hindi).
All of the channels that EABC delivers to the DSS-II
platform will be exclusive to DirecTv in the DBS universe, although DirecTv has allowed
EABC to continue to market the channels to cable. Still, David Moro, president and CEO of
EABC, said he believes that the majority of subscribers will come from DSS-II, with no
more than 20 percent coming from cable.
Moro said the company hopes to sign up 1 million
subscribers for the ethnic services in the next five years. Of those, EABC expects to
convert about 40 percent to DirecTv's mainstream services. Fort Lee, N.J.-based EABC
will offer discounts to anyone who subscribes to both EABC and DirecTv programming, but
Moro did not offer specific details.
"We'll be actively promoting DirecTv on our
channels, in language," Moro said at a press conference here last week.
Prices per EABC channel (or package of channels within a
single language) will run from $8.99 to $25 per month. EABC subscribers who do not select
a larger DirecTv package will be charged $5.99 for DirecTv Limited, which includes access
to pay-per-view, plus America's Health Network, Bloomberg Information Television,
Home Shopping Network and QVC, according to John McKee, senior vice president of special
markets for DirecTv.
McKee said a basic DSS-II model will sell for $399,
including the 21-inch-by 25-inch dish. Initial distribution is set for New York, Los
Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.
EABC plans to sell or lease the equipment to residents of
single-family homes; apartment-dwellers will only be allowed to lease. But if a current
DirecTv customer also wants to subscribe to EABC's ethnic fare, EABC will switch the
standard DSS equipment out free-of-charge, collecting only an installation fee.
The company is able to offer free equipment switch-outs,
Moro said, because EABC has a separate deal with DirecTv to install DSS in
multiple-dwelling units, where EABC can reuse the switched-out DSS boxes.
Each of EABC's ethnic channels airs 24 hours per day,
seven days per week. Some channels are imported from overseas, and others include a heavy
component of domestically produced foreign-language programming created for particular
ethnic communities within the United States.
Moro said the non-Hispanic ethnic market in the United
States represents about 13 million homes and continues to grow.
McKee said he expects the United States to have 31 million
non-English-speaking households by 2005, including the Hispanic population.
DirecTv plans to use the DSS-II platform to deliver the
country's largest package of Hispanic programming later this year, through a
partnership with Galaxy Latin America.
DirecTv also plans to broadcast at least two
high-definition television feeds from GIII-R. While subscribers could use the same dish as
the one in the new DSS-II hardware, they would need to upgrade to an HDTV-ready receiver
to access the high-definition signals.