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DirecTV Begins Transmitting Instant Weather Channel

EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. —DirecTV announced it has started transmitting its new Wink-enabled Instant Weather service from The Weather Channel. The interactive service appears on channel 492 and is offered at no extra charge to subscribers with RCA Wink-enabled integrated receiver descramblers (IRDs). The 24-hour-a-day service offers instant regional weather forecasts tailored to the needs of DirecTV viewers. DirecTV said the service is available to more than 1 million customers around the country. DirecTV interactive customers can view up-to-the-minute instant weather information for more than 1,000 cities. The service, activated with a remote control, can get local weather conditions and forecasts out to three days in advance. DirecTV is preparing to offer three more dedicated interactive channels, including services from ESPN and NBC, and an e-commerce-type channel from book retailer Barnes & Noble.

Meanwhile, DirecTV and EchoStar continue to be barred from carrying certain games of several Philadelphia pro sports teams, including the NHL Flyers and NBA Seventy-Sixers. The FCC denied applications from DirecTV and EchoStar seeking a review to overturn a ruling from the Cable Services Bureau denying program access complaints against Comcast. The satellite providers claimed Comcast, a Philadelphia-based cable operator, engaged in unfair and discriminatory practices by refusing to allow the Comcast SportsNet regional sports network to be carried by the satellite systems. Comcast was able to skirt program access rules because Comcast SportsNet is distributed terrestrially and not via satellite.

Showtime To Expand Unlimited Package

NEW YORK —Looking to enhance the value of its premium movie offerings, Showtime announced it will expand its Showtime Unlimited digital package in March with three new channels. The new channels—Showtime Next, Showtime Women and Showtime Familyzone—will each have East and West Coast feeds, for a total of six additional channels. Showtime Next is designed for audiences ages 18-24 and will offer movies and feature content that appear on the Web to attract those viewers. Showtime Women will include movies and other programming directed to women. Showtime Familyzone will present movies and programming with ‘G’ and ‘PG’ ratings designed to appeal to family viewers. A Showtime spokesperson said the network is beginning to negotiate with cable and satellite operators to carry the new channels in their Showtime tiers.

Blockbuster Offers DVD Deal

DALLAS —Blockbuster announced it is offering a new “Guaranteed Satisfaction” program for DVD rentals, giving renters unsatisfied with a DVD rental the opportunity to return it for another DVD selection at no extra charge. Blockbuster said customers who take advantage of this offer must select another DVD to check out at the time they return the DVD they are dissatisfied with. The guarantee applies to all rental DVDs in stock. Blockbuster has stocked a majority of its stores with “close to 1,000 DVD units” to meet the growing demand for the format. Said George Williams, senior VP of marketing, “We want to show our customers that Blockbuster is serious about supporting the DVD format.”

HNS, Earthlink Reach Broadband Agreement

GERMANTOWN, MD. —Earthlink, the Atlanta-based Internet service provider, has reached an agreement with Hughes Network Systems (HNS) to allow Earthlink to offer two-way high-speed satellite Internet services powered by HNS’ DirecPC technology. Earthlink will add the new two-way broadband DirecPC service to its array of broadband services for new and existing subscribers across the country starting in third-quarter 2001, according to a company sales representative. Earthlink currently offers broadband services via DSL, cable and fixed wireless platforms.

The two-way broadband satellite platform is especially important to Earthlink following its recent acquisition of OneMain, an ISP that specialized in serving under-served and rural markets. DirecPC is available to most areas of the country with a clear line of sight to the satellite. Earthlink and Hughes said they would soon release pricing and speeds for the service. Hughes also plans to announce other ISP partners to help distribute the new two-way satellite offering, according HNS executives.