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DirecTV To Carry HDTV In 12 Major Markets

DirecTV will begin the planned expansion of its HDTV services later this year by offering digital local broadcast channels, featuring high-definition programming, in 12 major markets. The company also announced plans to market new receivers with digital video recording capability, based on technology from News Corp’s NDS subsidiary.

To facilitate the planned channel expansion, DirecTV said during CES it would shift to the MPEG-4 AVC compression system, initially on HD services, which will require new MPEG-4-enabled set-top interactive receiver descramblers (IRDs).

The expansion will be carried out through the launch of four next-generation satellites by 2007. The additional capacity will eventually enable delivery of more than 1,500 local high-definition channels and 150 national HD channels.

The first two satellites are slated for launch early in the second quarter, enabling delivery of local HD channels in select markets by midyear, said Mitch Stern, DirecTV’s president and CEO.

The initial 12 markets slated for local HD service include: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Dallas, Atlanta, Detroit, Houston and Tampa. The markets represent 36 million homes, or nearly 33 percent of all U.S. households.

Stern said the company is still working out the logistics of getting the new equipment to existing high-definition DirecTV subscribers and did not detail marketing or rollout plans for the new equipment. In addition to a new set-top box, existing HDTV subscribers also may be required to replace their current dishes with slightly larger ones, a DirecTV representative said.

In 2004, DirecTV increased its distribution of local standard-definition channels to approximately 23 million homes.

In other news, DirecTV announced the addition of new interactive services including new mix channels with enhanced features that allow customers to view up to six channels on one screen, a DirecTV Active Channel that will offer a wide array of interactive services and new DirecTV-developed DVRs and services.

Later in the year, DirecTV will rollout a Home Media Center DVR option that will allow access to recorded content seamlessly from all televisions in the home.

Regarding plans to add its own DVRs this year, Stern said DirecTV has a contractual agreement to continue working with TiVo, and will deliver a new DirecTV TiVo product during the year. Stern said he was scheduled to meet with TiVo’s CEO Mike Ramsay during CES to discuss the possibility of DirecTV adding some of the enhanced services TiVo will be rolling out in its “Tahiti” initiative.

Stern said DirecTV plans to offer multiple products and service options for its customers and will select the most compelling.

“There is a lot of competition,” Stern said. “Everybody wants to be with DirecTV.”