DirecTV’s Mad About Interactivity

DirecTV Inc.’s interactive technology takes center court this week as part of the satellite provider’s “Mega March Madness” college-basketball subscription package.

But DirecTV has more in mind for its multiscreen video and informational interactive offering. It’s hoping entertainment programmers will step up and get interactive, too, according to DirecTV Entertainment executive vice president Eric Shanks.

DirecTV Interactive lets viewers who pay $59 for an exclusive National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Tournament package watch as many as three live games at a time simultaneously, throughout the championship tournament’s first three rounds.

Viewers also can update their tournament forecasts on screen while watching the games.

“Not only do you get live video, but you can fill out your own bracket on screen, or just keep track of scores while you’re watching the game so you don’t have to get off of your couch,” Shanks said.

Shanks would not predict how many subscribers buying the March Madness package would actually interact: Viewers need to have an interactive-ready converter. He said more basketball-package subscribers should use the interactive applications than the 40% of “NFL Sunday Ticket” buyers who do so, but he wouldn’t reveal how many Sunday Ticket subscribers had interactive boxes.

“The March Madness package is such a short time frame and I think that people are addicts about keeping up with their bracket and keeping up with everything else that’s going on,” he said.

After the tournament, DirecTV will focus on seeking other programming to which interactivity could be added. Talks were ongoing with a number of national and regional sports networks, said Shanks, who added that golf and tennis tournaments could be easily adapted.

He also hopes to make entertainment interactive, including such news and live event programs as awards shows and concerts, although no related deals have been reached.

“While I don’t see this working for scripted, episodic shows, it can adapt well to news, sports and kids-targeted programming,” Shanks said.

DirecTV plans to soon launch Gamestar, an interactive offering of video game-based versions of popular games like Su Doku, which can be played while watching television.

DirecTV gave the interactive treatment to NBC Universal network programming from last month’s Winter Olympics and will enhance the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network’s coverage of baseball’s New York Yankees this upcoming season.

About 1 million unique DirecTV subscribers used the Winter Olympics interactive features.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.