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DBS Goes Family, Then Hikes Fees

1/30/2006 02:00:00 AM Eastern

DirecTV and EchoStar joined cable companies in announcing new family-friendly programming tiers to assuage legislators exploring program decency initiatives, and then announced rate increases to keep up with rising programming costs.

Both of the nation's direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service providers waited until a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on decency in broadcast, cable and other media content to announce their family packages. Similar packages were also announced by cable operators during the hearings.

EchoStar executives credited the committee's investigations and the ongoing work of the Federal Communications Commission with “encouraging programmers to agree to give DISH Network the rights to offer a family pack.”

Both satellite family packages — DirecTV Total Choice Family and DishFAMILY — will include approximately 40 channels offering popular family-oriented programming like Boomerang, Disney, PBS Kids Sprout, National Geographic and Noggin. Also included are public-interest channels featuring scientific, political and religious content.

DirecTV will offer its family package in mid-April with local channel service for $34.99 a month. EchoStar's DishFAMILY package will be offered Feb. 1 without local TV channels for $19.99 a month or with local TV channels for $24.99 a month. Cable family packages tend to be slightly pricier than DirecTV's offering.

Days after the family tier announcements, DirecTV told retailers that it was raising rates an average of 4 percent, starting March 1. The increase followed announcements of similar pending price hikes by EchoStar and cable operators.

In most cases, the multichannel service providers blamed escalating programming costs and increased spending for new services in forcing the rate hikes.

DirecTV, which is fighting a churn problem, structured its rate increases to favor existing customers.

Also, lower-priced tiers will see larger percentage increases of up to 8.7 percent than more expensive packages.

For new subscribers, the price for the introductory “Total Choice” package will rise $3 per month (7.1 percent), from $41.99 to $44.99.

The “Total Choice Plus” package will rise $4 (8.7 percent), from $45.99 to $49.99.

For existing DirecTV customers prices will increase $3 across all packages, for an average of 4.5 percent.

Also in March, DirecTV will move to a leasing model for its receiver equipment.

Under the plan, dealers will make commissions on leasing equipment, an option already offered by rival EchoStar. The change was made to simplify adoption of new HDTV equipment and services.

DirecTV's Total Choice Family will include local broadcast channels and the following channels: Bloomberg, Boomerang, BYU TV, CNN Headline News, C-SPAN 1, C-SPAN 2, Daystar, Discovery Kids, Disney East, Disney West, DIY Network, EWTN, Fit-TV, Food Network, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, HITN, HSN, Link TV and NASA TV.

Other channels to be offered include: National Geographic Channel, Nickelodeon/Nick at Night East, Nickelodeon/Nick at Night West, Nicktoons, Noggin/The N, NRB Network, Once TV, PBS Kids Sprout, QVC, RFD TV, Shop at Home, Shop NBC, TCT Network, The Science Channel, The Weather Channel, Toon Disney, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Word Network, World Harvest Network, XM Disney Radio and XM Kids.

The DISH Family channel lineup will include the following: Animal Planet, EWTN, Outdoor Channel, The Biography Channel, Food Network, RFDTV, Bloomberg TV, Fox News Channel, Shop at Home, Boomerang, Great American Country, ShopNBC, BYUTV, CNN Headline News, The Science Channel, C-SPAN, HSN, The Weather Channel, C-SPAN-2, NASA, TBN, CSTV, Nickelodean East, TV Land, Discovery Kids, Nickelodean West, QVC, Discovery Times, Nick Games & Sports, Do It Yourself Network, and NickToons. More programming will be announced soon.

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