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DirecTV To Be Sold Under One Brand

LAS VEGAS— DirecTV is taking over complete responsibility for the sale and distribution of set-top boxes for its direct broadcast satellite service, in one of the first major moves under News Corp. leadership.

At the same time, DirecTV will require manufacturers producing equipment for the service to dispense with differentiated features and even their own company brands as the service moves to maintain uniformity of look and operation. All products will be flagged with a DirecTV logo.

DirecTV said the goal of the initiative is to “offer DirecTV customers a simple and more user-friendly experience, while also delivering a more efficient supply-chain process to its retail partners.” The approach will follow closely the equipment development and distribution system used by rival EchoStar for the DISH Network service.

DirecTV will assume complete responsibility for the sale and distribution to retail of all set-top boxes used to receive DirecTV programming and services by mid 2004, the company said. Over the course of the year, authorized manufacturers of DirecTV hardware will migrate to a new standardized hardware specification, which will ensure that all DirecTV customers enjoy a consistent user interface and experience.

Under the new system, DirecTV retailers will have a single point of contact for all DirecTV needs. Ironically, days before CES, RadioShack, which has been one of DirecTV’s largest retail partners, said it would no longer sell DirecTV equipment or services.

DirecTV said it activated 405,000 net new subscribers in the fourth quarter and ended the year with more than 12.2 million subscribers. For the full year, DirecTV added over 3 million gross owned-and-operated customers.

Meanwhile, DirecTV said it now plans to deliver its first HDTV-capable combination receiver and TiVo digital video recorder in March at a $999.95 suggested retail. It will store up to 200 hours of standard definition programming or up to 30 hours of high-definition television. The DVR will be manufactured for DirecTV by sister company Hughes Network Systems.

The CBS-HD service will be available only to subscribers living in markets where CBS has owned-and-operated (O&O) stations. This includes New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Salt Lake City, Austin, Texas, and Green Bay, Wis.

DirecTV said a similar agreement with FOX for FOX O&O markets is expected in coming weeks.

Customers who subscribe to the DirecTV local channel package in CBS and/or FOX O&O markets will receive the programming free of charge.