Satellite Providers Play Their PVR Trump Card

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Direct-broadcast satellite providers and personal video-recording companies are trying harder to get integrated satellite receivers/PVRs into your home.

At a press conference in New York last Wednesday, Thomson Multimedia said it would cut the suggested retail price of its UltimateTV receiver by $100 to $299, starting Aug. 1. The RCA-branded UltimateTV product combines a two-tuner DirecTV Inc. satellite receiver with a PVR service and television-based Internet service from Microsoft Corp.

First-time DirecTV customers who also need the satellite dish would pay $349 for the system.

The lower consumer price should help give a boost to the PVR category, said Thomson general manager of DBS product management Doug Lankford.

"Retailers are excited about it," Lankford said. "It's easy to advertise, especially since there are no rebates involved."

In a conference call last Tuesday, TiVo Inc. confirmed that it's on target to meet its goal of adding between 180,000 and 220,000 new subscribers this year. TiVo PVRs are available both on a stand-alone basis and built into DirecTV satellite receivers.

EchoStar Communications Corp. in recent weeks has stepped up the promotional push behind its DishPVR, which combines a Dish Network receiver with a built-in PVR.

"Personal video recording is a key point of differentiation between Dish and cable," said EchoStar senior vice president of marketing Ira Bahr, citing recent news reports that said cable operators plan to delay the deployment of advanced set-top boxes.

Bahr wants to make sure consumers take note of that distinction as well. That's why the DishPVR is clearly positioned as a replacement for cable in EchoStar's ads. In one offer, new customers can lease the DishPVR for a single monthly fee, with no additional payment for equipment or separate PVR-service fee.

"We can make the claim that for about what you pay for cable, you can get hundreds of channels of television and personal-video-recording capability," Bahr said.

The DishPVR ads have cropped up in newspapers and magazines, as well as on radio, billboards and "just about everywhere," Bahr said.

EchoStar plans to unveil an aggressive upgrade program for existing Dish Network customers within the next 60 days, Bahr said.

"We wish to be the first player with 1 million PVRs deployed," Bahr said. He added that Dish subscribers who have access to PVR technology tend to be more satisfied and less likely to churn.

Insight Communications Inc. senior vice president of marketing and programming Pam Halling said earlier this month that she wants the cable operator to be able to offer its subscribers a set-top box with a built-in PVR to better compete with DBS. She said she doesn't expect Insight's suppliers to deliver such a product until the second half of next year.

"We'd like to have it sooner," Halling said.

TiVo has already worked with such cable operators as Comcast Corp. to sign up customers for its PVR service in a limited number of markets. But in those trials and market deployments, the PVR hardware has not been integrated with digital cable set-top boxes.

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