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Dish Hikes Entry Package Price by 10%

LAS VEGAS -EchoStar Communications Corp. confirmed it would raise rates for its entry-level programming package by 10 percent on Feb. 1. The news came less than a week after top cable MSO AT & T Broadband said it would raise its average programming prices by just under 5 percent this year.

At a Consumer Electronics Show press conference here, EchoStar chairman Charlie Ergen said the company's Dish Network would rename its "America's Top 40" package "America's Top 50," to reflect programming that's been added over the years. Dish Network launched the package in 1996 for $19.99 a month.

The new price-$21.99 per month-is the first increase for the package in Dish Network's history. The company has raised some prices on other products.

The programming adjustment "reflects our programming costs," Ergen said, noting that Dish's outlay for ESPN alone has gone up 40 percent just in the past two years.

The DBS provider is also raising the price of its popular "Top 100" package by $1, to $30.99, but its more-robust Top 150 package will remain at $39.99.

Dish Network's charge for the Home Box Office multiplex is going up $1, to $12.99. But a package that combines HBO and Cinemax multiplexes will go down $1, to $19.99.

The DBS provider's most comprehensive package, the Everything Pak, will stay at $69.99.

Also at CES, EchoStar unveiled a new DBS receiver with built-in digital-video recorder technology that the company designed itself. The company said customers that subscribe to a minimum level of programming each month won't be charged a monthly service fee for the PVR functionality.

Current DishPlayer customers pay $10 each month to access a PVR service from Microsoft Corp.

While the CES spotlight did not shine as brightly on EchoStar or DirecTV as in past years, the industry itself grew significantly in 2000. Although neither company has released its fourth-quarter numbers, Ergen estimated the DBS industry added 3.5 million new subscribers last year.

DirecTV Inc. said at CES it would launch a new subscriber acquisition campaign on Jan. 25, offering new customers up to $200 in mail-in rebates when they commit to a year of programming.

The tactics of both DBS companies seem to address Wall Street's focus on driving subscriber revenues through larger monthly fees and long-term commitments.

DirecTV, EchoStar and Pegasus Communications Corp. all promoted two-way satellite products and partnerships at the show. Bundling an always-on, high-speed Internet service with their current multichannel video packages should also help the companies address the threat of subscriber defections to cable, as MSOs launch bundles of their own.

In addition to high-speed over satellite, which even DBS providers agree will appeal mainly to rural subscribers, DirecTV also discussed its pending deal to buy Telocity Inc. That acquisition will give DirecTV a digital subscriber line option to promote to consumers that don't want two-way satellite service.

Both EchoStar and DirecTV highlighted high-definition television at their press conferences and in their CES booths. DirecTV Merchandising Inc. president Bill Casamo hinted that the company plans to add a new nationwide HD channel within the next month or two.