Discovery, Starz Dive Into DirecTV’s HD Pool

Getting ready for its HDTVexpansion, DirecTV struck deals to launch six Discovery Networks U.S. HD channels and five Starz Entertainment HD channels, with most of those slated to debut on the direct-broadcast satellite service in September.

With those agreements, as well as deals to offer CNBC and Chiller in HD, DirecTV said it is on schedule to roll out up to 100 national HD channels by year-end.

“Earlier this year, we called 2007 the ‘year of HD,’ and we’re going to deliver on our commitment to offer more HD channels than any other multichannel provider,” executive vice president of strategy and development Derek Chang said in a prepared statement. “In addition to the networks we’ve signed to date, we will continue to add more HD programming to our launch list between now and year-end.”

Under an agreement with Discovery Communications, DirecTV will launch four simulcasts -- Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet and The Science Channel -- and two other channels to be named and launched by Discovery at a later date. The HD feeds of the four existing networks will launch in September.

DirecTV also has an agreement in place with Starz to launch three new HD-movie channels -- Starz Edge, Starz Comedy and Starz Kids & Family -- as well as Starz’s East and West Coast HD feeds. The new Starz HD channels, featuring first-run hit movies, and the Starz East and West HD channels will also launch in September.

The History Channel and DirecTV recently announced that the satellite provider will be the first to launch The History Channel HD, a new 24-hour HD network, and A&E HD in September.

In addition, Disney Channel will provide DirecTV with exclusive rights to broadcast the premiere HD version of High School Musical 2, the sequel to the global sensation for kids and families. DirecTV will air the movie in HD a few days after its standard-definition premiere Aug. 17 on Disney Channel.

DirecTV also plans to offer the HD feeds of regional sports networks on a nationwide basis this fall, and it has commitments from a number of other networks to launch their HD simulcasts. They will be added to the lineup for launch by year-end and will be announced at a later date.

So far, DirecTV has signed agreements or agreements in principle to launch HD feeds of A&E, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CNN, Food Network, Big Ten Network, Home & Garden Television, MTV, Disney Channel, Toon Disney, ABC Family, ESPNEWS HD, Starz East/West feeds, Starz Edge, Starz Comedy, Starz Kids & Family, CNBC, National Geographic Channel, NFL Network, Sci Fi Channel, Speed Channel, TBS, The History Channel, The Weather Channel, USA Network, Versus HD, TLC, Animal Planet, The Science Channel, Discovery Channel, The Tennis Channel, Showtime West, The Movie Channel and Chiller.

DirecTV currently offers ESPN HD, ESPN2 HD, Discovery HD Theater, HDNet, HDNet Movies, TNT in HD, Universal HD, HBO HD, Showtime HD, an HD pay-per-view/special-events channel and HD feeds from New York- and Los Angeles -based broadcast networks ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox (for eligible customers). It also offers local HD broadcast channels in 60 cities, representing more than 70% of U.S. TV households.

DirecTV announced earlier this year that it will have the capacity to launch up to 100 national HD channels by the end of the year and to offer local HD channels in up to 75 markets following the launch of its DirecTV 10 satellite this summer. The satellite will be operational and new HD services will begin rolling out in third quarter.

The DirecTV 11 satellite will launch early next year to support further HD expansion. With the two satellites, DirecTV will have the ability to deliver more than 1,500 local HD and digital channels and 150 national HD channels.