DirecTV Prepares to Launch New HD-Only Programming Tier

DirecTV plans to create a tier of HD-only channels when it rolls out its much-ballyhooed expanded high-definition TV packages, possibly as early as next week.

The new tier will include services that are not simulcasts of standard-definition networks and exist only in high definition. This tier will be one part of the DirecTV’s overall revamping of its HDTV services, which will jump to more than 70 channels this fall.

At one point, the rollout of the satellite provider’s overall expanded HD offering appeared to have been set for next Wednesday, Sept. 19. That was the date cited in an internal DirecTV document first posted on the Web site   

But on Wednesday DirecTV spokesman Darris Gringeri said much of the information that that document was outdated and that the satellite provider is still finalizing its HDTV plans. DirecTV did not provide a firm launch date for the first stage of the revamping of its HDTV platform, which officials have previously said would occur by the end of the third quarter. That would mean by September 30.

The memo said there would be a tier of “unique HD services” -- HDNet, HDNet Movies, Universal HD, MHD, MGM HD and Smithsonian HD, which don’t have companion standard-definition services – that would be called DirecTV HD Extra Pack. The memo put its pricing for that tier at $4.99 a month for new subscribers.

Gringeri confirmed there will be a tier of HD-only services, but said it is still being determined what channels will be included.

“There will be a new HD tier that will feature HD-only channels that do not have an SD option,” Gringeri said. “The reason is that they are unique channels [no SD equivalent] and have costs associated with them. It is still being decided what channels will go into that new tier.”

The document that DirecTV said is outdated, which is dated Sept. 6, outlined in detail several HDTV packages, as well as their channel lineups, along with some initial information on pricing for the offerings.

The document was anonymously posted late last week on the Reader’s Forum on SatelliteGuys, according to Scott Greczkowski, who operates the site and writes a blog “The Satellite Dish,” for Multichannel News.

On a page entitled “DirecTV HD Extra Pack,” the DirecTV memo says that what it calls “the new satellite launch” will take place Sept. 19. The memo, reviewed by Multichannel News, says that HD simulcast services will be included as part of a subscriber’s “relevant base package,” such as Choice.

“Unique” HD services will be grandfathered to customers with “legacy HD equipment,” according to the memo.

However, the memo adds that new customers and “remaining legacy customers” will be charged a separate $4.99 fee for the DirecTV HD Extra Pack, which includes the six “unique” standalone HD networks.

But according to Gringeri, “DirecTV HD customers will continue to pay the same $9.99 HD access fee, which is really a technology fee that allows customers to receive all the HD programming associated with their relevant base programming package, including up to 100 HD channels DirecTV will launch by the end of 2007.”

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, DirecTV first unveiled its plans to have the capacity to offer 150 national HDTV channels, adding that it had done HD carriage deals with dozens of networks. The satellite service later said the first phase of that rollout would take place in September, and then later put the timeframe at the end of the third quarter, with about 70 HDTV networks.