A French Open Mosaic

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The Tennis Channel and DirecTV are going to enjoy Paris in the springtime.

The dedicated sports and lifestyle service has reached a multiyear distribution agreement with the direct-broadcast satellite leader, commencing with a sneak peek of the French Open that will include a mosaic channel that will afford viewers the ability to watch a number of matches beyond the standard feed.

The preview, which will be available to all 16 million DirecTV customers, presages the launch of Tennis Channel on the distributor's “Choice Xtra” package sometime this summer.

At press time, Tennis Channel was also finalizing arrangements with its current lineup of cable affiliates to open up more of their systems' lineups to its coverage from Paris.

50 MILLION HOME TARGET

Network officials said that with the combination of DirecTV and cable, Tennis would be available to close to 50 million homes for the tournament, scheduled from May 27 through June 10.

The full-time launch on DirecTV, which will take place no later than the start of the tennis season's fourth Grand Slam event, the U.S. Open on Aug. 27, is expected to add 8.5 million subscribers and lift Tennis's base to 18 million overall.

Deal terms were not disclosed. The parties declined to say if DirecTV, which will also launch an HD version of Tennis late this year, had gained an equity stake in the service.

“It's great to be part of DirecTV's lineup and part of a broad tier of service that will virtually double our distribution,” Tennis Channel chairman Ken Solomon said. “The enhanced mosaic channel will make six screens available and expose more viewers to our breadth and depth of coverage. This deal continues Tennis Channel's momentum in recent months.”

The channel has been busy lately under Solomon, the former Fine Living TV chief hired in April 2005.

Last August, Tennis Channel, which televises more than 60 tournaments a year, secured its first live rights to a Grand Slam event, obtaining a multiyear, multimedia deal with the French Tennis Federation for the U.S. cable rights to the action from Stade de Roland Garros.

In December, the United States Tennis Association, the sport's U.S. governing body, took an equity stake in the service.

In January, the network signed a long-term multimedia alliance with ESPN through 2011, under which ESPN2 gains the right from Tennis Channel to present coverage from the French, as well as new-media capabilities. In exchange, Tennis Channel nets 100 hours of live and taped coverage rights to the first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, from ESPN.

As for DirecTV's Parisian presentation, the first eight days of the tournament from May 27 through June 3 will feature the carrier's French Open Mix Channel.

ADDING 'COURT CHANNELS'

Bolstering Tennis Channel's principal coverage will be feeds from five other matches. Hence, viewers can watch six matches simultaneously on one screen, or those with interactive receivers can select a “Court Channel” for full-screen viewing.

DirecTV customers also will have access to a half-screen scoreboard overlay feature including match results and previews on both the mix and extra court channels.

All told, DirecTV customers will have access to up to 300 hours and more than 100 additional French Open matches on Tennis Channel.

“Our interactive technology has dramatically changed the way sports are viewed on TV and features like the Mix Channels have been especially popular with tennis fans, who want to follow their favorite players wherever and whenever they're playing on the courts,” DirecTV Entertainment executive vice president Eric Shanks said in a statement.

In a recent interview, Shanks said adding Tennis should benefit DirecTV, which last year offered similar multiple live channel coverage from the U.S. Open.

“Tennis fans are passionate, and that's the kind of demographic that you have to go after,” he said. “You're catering to the people who are passionate about that product who may switch to DirecTV because they feel you're doing something nice for them or they'll stay with us.”

ESPN and Tennis Channel coverage from Roland Garros, including commentary from on-air experts John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, will go around the clock.

Tennis Channel's first serve goes live from 5.a.m to noon (ET), before ESPN2 continues with fresh match coverage until 3 p.m. and same-day replays through 6:30 p.m. Tennis Channel returns with “French Open Tonight,” featuring highlights, replays, discussion, a top match that wasn't televised and traipses along the Seine and to other Paris locales. The show will encore twice, before starting the live circuit again.

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