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DirecTV Bows 'School Choice'

In a nod to the decade-long success of Cable in the Classroom, DirecTV Inc. last week kicked off its own educational programming initiative, called "DirecTV Goes to School."

Sixty-seven programmers have agreed to make their networks available to participating schools free of charge, as part of a package called "School Choice."

"Cable has had a similar program for many years," said senior vice president of programming Stephanie Campbell. "We felt it was time for us to give back."

Because "School Choice" isn't a commercial effort, the direct-broadcast satellite provider doesn't see it as a competitor to the cable industry's Cable in the Classroom initiative, she added.

"It's very similar to [CIC]," Campbell admitted. "There's no sense in reinventing the wheel."

DirecTV officially launched the service-which will be available to 50,000 U.S. schools and serve students in grades kindergarten through 12-last Wednesday (March 7) with a ceremony at La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles.

Qualifying schools must buy their own DirecTV hardware, although some disadvantaged schools will be offered free hardware and installation based on their ability to pay.

Because some participating networks are broadcast from a secondary orbital location, DirecTV will encourage schools to purchase hardware systems that can access programming from multiple satellites. Schools that buy receivers with a built-in personal video recorder from TiVo Inc. can time-shift programming from the live DirecTV feed.

For example, teachers that want to present content from a weekly series on The Learning Channel can have several episodes ready for back-to-back viewing, so they won't have to wait a week for the next lesson.

TiVo plans to donate lifetime memberships to its PVR subscription service to participating schools.

Programmers are 100 percent behind the School Choice program, Campbell said. "We haven't had one say no to us."

The educational program includes about 28 channels not yet affiliated with CIC, including Boomerang, Eternal Word Television Network, Oxygen, PBS YOU, The Health Network, Outdoor Life and several Spanish-language networks.

DirecTV's marketing department will help develop tools to inform teachers about the new program. It also will create a special School Choice cover for its DirecTV-The Guide
print publication each month.

The DBS company has also set up a toll-free hotline for teachers who have questions about the program.

Though DirecTV hopes the educational initiative will help build good will within the community, Campbell said it was not created as a "subliminal approach to marketing."

"We're not consciously trying to sell DirecTV through children," she said.

The company has not yet announced plans to add a broadband Internet component to its educational program, but Campbell said that's possible in the future.