DirecTV Rolls Out VOD

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El Segundo, Calif.— Looking to make up ground against cable operators and their interactive networks, DirecTV is preparing to roll out a new service that will essentially give basic-cable networks their own dedicated channels for programming delivered on-demand to viewers.

Food Network and Discovery Channel are among more than a dozen programming services that are expected to be available when the big satellite broadcaster launches its new on-demand service in July, according to DirecTV.

LEVELING THE FIELD

The service will allow DirecTV to better compete with cable operators that have been offering on-demand content for years. The biggest cable operator, Comcast, claims to have served up 3.7 billion streams of video on customers’ requests since 2004, for instance.

Now, the largest satellite operator will try to match that. DirecTV executive vice president for entertainment Eric Shanks said the satellite giant has the technological capacity to download video via a broadband connection at speeds that will allow consumers to watch the content in real time.

Shanks said the service will give individual networks complete control over their own channel, including content and marketing messages; and that DirecTV has more than a dozen networks signed up to provide on-demand content.

Scripps Networks confirmed that it will provide content from its Food Network and HGTV-owned channels. Executives close to DirecTV also said Discovery Channel will be part of the service when it debuts. Discovery executives would not comment.

DIFFERENT DEMANDS

The satellite provider’s network branded on-demand strategy differs somewhat from that of many cable operators that amass free on-demand cable-network content within such genres as kids, news and entertainment. Programming executives say such categorization prohibits networks from effectively marketing their brands and content to viewers.

DirecTV subscribers with the company’s high-definition DVR receiver and a high-speed modem connection will be able to access more than 2,000 on-demand movies — many of which will be in high-definition — as well as the cable-network content. Shanks said DirecTV will begin beta-testing the service in April and expects to roll it out to customers in July.

“It depends on your connection,” Shanks said. “A lot of times the content will download faster than real time. There’s nothing technically on our side that limits the consumer’s ability to watch it in real time.”

In other DirecTV new-media news, Shanks said the company will serve up multiple-court coverage of the French Open to support the Tennis Channel’s presentation of the Grand Slam tournament this spring. Similar to the coverage it provided for last summer’s U.S. Open, DirecTV will offer multiple live channels from the tournament, which begins in May, as well as a special “French Open Mix” channel that will feature all live feeds, according to Shanks.

ORIGINAL SERIES

Shanks said the company is also prepping several series for its The 101 original programming channel. DirecTV later this year will launch a game show dubbed Between a Rock and a Hard Place, which will pit bands against each other Family Feud style. “Half the questions will be about rock and roll, but the other half will be about pop culture,” Shanks said.

In August, the network will premiere Championship Gaming Series, a team-based video gaming league. The two shows will join other original shows such as Web user-generated series Project MyWorld and The Fizz, plus a slate of concerts featuring such acts as Beyoncé and Nine Inch Nails.

“The goal is to have your sales sheet out in front of customers at Best Buy and other retailers and to have a set of programming that no one else has that appeals to the women, males and kids in the house,” he said.

On the video-gaming front, Shanks said DirecTV has already signed up 20,000 subscribers to its month-old Game Lounge interactive gaming service without any significant promotion.

He added that poker, solitaire and the Mattel-produced Barbie games are among the service’s most popular games.

Shanks also said that 60% of customers have created their own “avatars” or personal characters with Game Lounge and are posting their high scores for the various games.

“People are really getting involved in the games,” he said.

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