DirecTV to Launch Four Next-Generation Birds

DirecTV Inc. plans to launch four next-generation satellites as part of a “massive expansion” of local and national high-definition channels, the direct-broadcast satellite provider said Wednesday.

The new birds will also allow DirecTV to offer new interactive and enhanced services and standard-definition programming.

The first two satellites, “Spaceway 1” and “Spaceway 2,” will launch in 2005 with programming being offered to consumers by the middle of the year, DirecTV said.

These two birds will have the capacity for more than 500 local HD channels and will give DirecTV the ability to bring local HD programming to most of the U.S. population, as well as continuing to expand standard-definition local offerings and other enhancements.

Then, in early 2007, DirecTV plans to launch “DirecTV 10” and “DirecTV 11,” which will have the capacity for more than 1,000 additional local HD channels, more than 150 national HD channels and other new programming offerings.

“With the launch of local HD channels, we will help to advance the nation’s transition to digital television,” DirecTV CEO Mitch Stern said in a prepared statement.

“Our strongest growth is in our local-channel markets, where millions of former cable customers have cut their service for DirecTV,” he added. “Offering local HD channels, as well as a variety of interactive services, will strengthen our competitive position and give cable customers who have yet to switch another reason to subscribe to DirecTV.”

In other DirecTV news, Verizon Communications announced that the DBS service is now available simply by calling a Verizon customer-service representative.

It had previously been available only through Verizon Plus stores and special toll-free numbers.

“Adding DirecTV service to our package options greatly increases the choices available to customers and makes our bundles more valuable,” Bob Ingalls, president of Verizon's retail-markets group, said in a prepared statement.

“We have a clear-cut business strategy to retain our customers and win new ones with our packages,” he added.