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Mergers, MDU Focus Mark SBCA Show

This year’s Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association (SBCA) Show in Las Vegas (July 19-21) is expected to be significantly different from those of past summers.

The biggest change results from the massive consolidation that has transpired over the past 12 months. Gone are the sales and marketing teams of Primestar, following that platform’s recent acquisition by rival DirecTv. Meanwhile, the proposed partnership of the News Corp./MCI ASkyB satellite platform that has bounced back and forth between EchoStar and Primestar, landed for the last time with the Dish Network, and is expected to lead to expanded service offerings, including interactive data communication and HDTV.

“Due to the mergers we have seen in this industry in recent months, this year’s show is going to be quite a bit different from others before it,” said Chuck Hewitt, SBCA president. “We now have two big platform providers who are going to be expanding their services to include not only more video channels but the Internet and HDTV as well.”

Hewitt said this show would also place more emphasis on the multiple dwelling unit market.

“We see MDUs as a tremendous, untapped future for the satellite industry,” Hewitt said, adding that many of the educational seminars at the show will stress this area.

“There is going to be a great need to create a base of highly skilled retailers, with strong backgrounds in technology, business, service and sales, to go after that market,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for retailers who want to develop that part of their business.”

The industry kingpin, DirecTv, is gearing up to deliver HDTV services to customers in August, when Thomson delivers the first RCA and ProScan-branded HDTV receiver systems. Others — including Hitachi, Mitsubishi and Toshiba — will follow. DirecTv will be showing HDTV and will demonstrate the TiVo personal TV recorders that Philips will integrate into a DirecTv IRD early next year.

EchoStar also plans to update attendees on its recent activity, as well as its plans for the future. The platform provider plans to launch two more satellites this year to expand its offerings for local-to-local, Internet service and HDTV. EchoStar now owns orbital slots at 110 and 119 degrees, each capable of up to 250 channels.

At the show, EchoStar plans to unveil its new Dish 500 service, which will include all of its former and expanded services. EchoStar has developed a new round dish, which was made “slightly larger” than the original in order to receive signals from two orbital slots at the same time and allow consumers to receive the service.

EchoStar will announce its plan for helping dish customers swap out their current 18″ dishes, which will require keeping their current LNBF to add to a new second unit.

Additionally, EchoStar will show an HDTV adapter that was designed to connect to the model 5000 IRD to receive HDTV signals. It is expected to sell for around $300.

The company also plans to give an update of its new Dish Player combination IRD and WebTV device, which adds a hard drive to pause and rewind live TV programs. EchoStar reports that sales of the $199 device have been very strong, and the company is now ready to unveil a service expansion to record up to eight hours of video on the unit’s hard drive. Users will find programs they wish to record on the Dish onscreen guide. The recording function will carry a monthly subscription fee (to be announced at the show).

New at the show will be a set-top box optimized for the OpenTV interactive data enhancement service. The OpenTV functionality will be available on various programs later in the year and can be received by the new set-top box and the current model 4700 IRD. Owners of the 4700 will have software downloaded to their IRDs from the satellite service when OpenTV content becomes available.

Sony, meanwhile, recently started shipping its two newest integrated receiver descrambler units for the DirecTv platform. Its lineup adds more powerful microprocessors to deliver enhanced onscreen guides and menus allowing viewers to perform multiple tasks on the TV screen at one time. For example, viewers could watch a TV program in an inset window while scrolling through other listings in an OSG window off to the side of screen.

For the two new satellite receivers, B50D (replaces SAS-BD3) carries a $249 suggested retail, and A50D (replaces SAS-AD3) at $349 adds an RF joystick remote. Both units are also available without the dual-LNB dish for multiple-room use at suggested retails of $199 and $299, respectively.