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DirecTV Unrolls HDTV Blanket

Satellite operator DirecTV Inc. said it will launch four satellites by 2007 that will allow it to blanket the country with national and local HDTV channels.

The first satellite will be launched in April 2005 by Arianespace, which independently announced the two new contracts with DirecTV. That and another satellite to be launched in 2005 will enable the delivery of 500 local HD channels. The next two, in 2007, will deliver another 1,000 local HD channels and 150 national HD services.

The National Association of Broadcasters Thursday praised DirecTV's announced plans to deliver expanded HDTV offerings to "every household in America."

"NAB salutes DirecTV's commitment to serving consumers with local-to-local high definition television," said NAB in a statement. " Their leadership will bring consumers the best in local broadcasting in HDTV."

NAB took the opportunity to suggest that the announcement obviated the need for satellite operators to carve out "digital white areas" to deliver digital signals to subscribers who aren't revising the over-the-the air digital network signal of their local affiliate. Satellite operator Echostar has been pushing Congress to create an exception to the law prohibiting the importation of distant network signals that would allow for the importation of digital signals to those so-called white areas. They argue that that will help speed the digital transition.

"We have always questioned the wisdom of carving out 'digital white areas' for satellite households that can be served by local broadcasters," NAB said. "With this announcement, policymakers can plainly see that satellite TV providers are capable of delivering local-to-local HDTV to virtually every home in America."
"We have led the TV industry in choice, quality and service and we are now positioned to lead the industry in bringing new advanced television programming to consumers nationwide," said DirecTV Group President and CEO Chase Carey in announcing the new satellite deals. "Only DirecTV, not cable or other competitors, will have the capability to bring hundreds of high-definition channels and other enhancements to consumers across the entire country."

Alan Bezoza, SVP, broadband cable research for Friedman Billings Ramsey, appears to agree with Carey that DirecTV has the edge. "We feel that cable operators must (finally) differentiate their video positioning rather than sit back and allow DBS to continue to take market share," he wrote Thursday of the DirecTV announcement. "We feel that it is this increased competition from both DBS and RBOCs that will continue to keep valuations in check for the cable services sector."