HITS Eyes Further Operator Customization

HITS2Home, the satellite-overlay service being offered by Headend in the Sky, is not only trying to increase its distribution, but it is also pitching new equipment that lets small operators custom-tailor their digital lineups.

Using a special Motorola Inc. set-top receiver and satellite dish, AT & T Broadband's HITS now has HITS2Home launched in roughly 116 cable systems. "And we have another 200 launches in cue," HITS vice president of operations Paul Bambei said.

Bambei didn't have an estimate as to how many actual subscribers are now getting HITS2Home, but he claimed that the service is tracking better than the original projections. HITS officials have previously said that they were hoping to have 300,000 subscribers get the HITS2Home service within the next few years.

HITS2Home, which launched April 17 after a beta-testing phase at 39 cable systems, allows small operators-typically 2,000 homes or fewer-to add up to 140 digital channels without investing in new pricey headend gear or having to rebuild their plants.

HITS' digital programming is delivered directly to cable subscribers' homes and, through the special Motorola set-top, seamlessly combined with analog programming from the local cable operator.

Among the MSOs rolling out HITS2Home are Charter Communications Inc. and Classic Cable Inc., which see it as a way for their channel-locked systems to compete with direct-broadcast satellite.

"With the popular HITS digital-programming service and Motorola's prepackaged home-installation kits, we can combine the local benefits of cable technology with enhanced programming for one very compelling service offering," Powell Bedgood, vice president of Charter's Digital Services, said in a prepared statement.

The HITS2Home end-to-end equipment, including special receiver and dish, costs operators about $350. Most cable systems are absorbing that as a capital cost, according to Bambei.

At the National Show in New Orleans earlier this month, HITS also began touting new "grooming" technology that will permit cable operators to cherry-pick digitized channels from different HITS transponders to craft their own individual, custom digital lineups.

HITS has already crafted a deal for that equipment with Cisco Systems Inc., and sources said it is working to get a similar agreement for the gear from Terayon Communication Systems Inc.

With Cisco's "RateMux 6920" series digital-video statistical remultiplexer, operators can choose the programming that best fits their markets' needs by assembling new, custom digital-video-programming streams from various HITS transponders.

So instead of being forced to take the 12 networks from one HITS transponder, for example, operators could pick a few channels from different transponders and combine them with networks chosen from other HITS transponders.

Initially, HITS will only support so-called grooming for AT & T Broadband systems and other large HITS affiliates that use Cisco's remultiplexer and the National Addressable System for addressable control of digital converters.

HITS will be able to offer that kind of grooming support for all of its affiliates using Cisco and NAS by next year.

HITS is now evaluating whether or not it should add more transponders to its service above and beyond the current 12. At the National Show, new African-American programming service Majority Broadcasting Corp. Network announced that it has a deal to be carried on HITS, most likely on pod 5 or 11.