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DirecTV: Web’s an Ally

DirecTV is betting that the Web will serve as a major technological ally as it tries to match cable in delivering on-demand video content.

The top U.S. satellite-TV provider (17 million subscribers) will lean on customers’ Internet connections to support DirecTV On Demand, which officially launched late last month, as well as other interactive services as it competes with cable and telephone companies in the on-demand content-delivery arena. That’s according to Eric Shanks, executive vice president of entertainment, interviewed at DirecTV headquarters here.

Shanks said early usage of the on-demand service — which provides more than 4,000 standard-definition and HDTV titles through a DirecTV PlusHD DVR or R22 DVR receiver — has met internal performance expectations, but he would not reveal specific download numbers.

The service allows customers to download programming to their digital video recorders from an on-demand library, via the customer’s separately acquired high-speed connection (DSL or cable modem) and router.

“On the surface, [our VOD efforts] can probably be perceived as a bit of catch-up, but the real strategy below is that DirecTV is embracing the Internet as another means of delivering content into the house and into the main TV screen in the house,” Shanks told Multichannel News. “It opens up a whole new world to DirecTV customers, and eventually you’ll begin to see more data applications and others that we don’t even have on the drawing board right now.”

Among the Internet-based applications currently available to on-demand-capable subscribers is remote Internet scheduling via the network’s DVR Scheduler. On-demand viewers can now remotely schedule programming to their DVR from an Internet-connected computer or mobile phone.

Shanks said DirecTV subscribers have already recorded 1 million shows through the DVR Scheduler since the service launched this past January.

DirecTV will look to drive more on-demand usage by encouraging new subscribers to connect their boxes to a high-speed connection right away.

“In this first wave of VOD, it’s customers who choose to hook up their box to their home [high-speed Internet] network that are downloading programming,” Shanks said. “But down the road, you’ll see a push from DirecTV to new customers to do that at the point of install, to get a higher percentage of new customers hooked up,” he said.

DirecTV will also look to enhance other Internet-based services, including its web-based “NFL Sunday Ticket” out-of-market sports package. Shanks said this year’s online video service — the second season DirecTV will offer its exclusive package of live National Football League games over the Web — will be supported by Adobe Air, a new online player that will allow DirecTV to offer a richer online viewing experience.

“It’ll allow for more animation and increased viewer interactivity,” said Shanks. “It’ll be a cooler online experience.”

R. Thomas Umstead
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.