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DirecTV Readying Interactive Services

Sep 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When the NFL tosses the coin to start a new season this Sunday, DirecTV will kick off three new interactive TV applications. The new services usher in a wave of next-generation interactivity at the satellite provider as it prepares to come under the purview of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
The media giant has enjoyed success with ITV applications in Europe, Asia and Australia, and its pending purchase of the more than 11.5-million-subscriber satellite company may serve as a wakeup call to the cable industry that its biggest competitor-satellite-is dead serious about interactivity.
The new features on DirecTV are designed for “power users” of NFL Sunday Ticket, DirecTV’s football package, and cut a wide swath across the interactive possibilities-enhanced content on the TV, two-screen interactivity and a PVR video push.
The three services are free, and the satellite provider hopes they will drive customer loyalty and retention, said Tim Traynor, VP of advanced services at DirecTV.
The new offerings also represent a next interactive step for DirecTV, which has offered the Wink interactive TV service on several channels since 2000. “I think the speculation is [News Corp.] has had success with interactive services in Europe and has a lot of customers using the apps and claims the interactivity is helping keep churn very low, so we expect News [Corp.] to come in and have a lot of emphasis on that,” Mr. Traynor said.
The satellite business has been leading the way with enhanced services, said J.R. McKechnie, CEO of Brightline Partners in New York, which focuses on implementing enhanced television advertising campaigns for advertisers and agencies. “I think this is another example of how satellite is really blazing some trails in terms of interactivity and advanced services, and that is only going to increase if and when News Corp. takes over DirecTV,” he said.
The first of the new services is an enhanced channel crawl down the side of the screen that includes a graphics overlay with scorecards for other games. The crawls will allow customers to get data such as ball possession, score, red zone alert and the game clock. “We know that customers tend to bounce between games a lot. This was meant to be something to help the power users to surf around a lot,” Mr. Traynor said.
The second application is “Game Tracker,” a two-screen service accessed on directv.com that features information online for hard-core fans who want to track player statistics and injuries and vote on coaches’ challenges. For example, a poll question might pop up on the TV screen asking, “Should the coach go for the first down or kick the field goal?”
The expectation is that fans would watch the game on TV and then participate in online polling or trivia questions. Mr. Traynor said DirecTV conducted a number of focus groups with fantasy football players when it developed this application. “We know this isn’t going to be a broad-based hit, but it’s really for our power users. If you look at Sunday Ticket customers, a lot of them are pretty avid fans,” he said.
The third offering is available to Sunday Ticket customers who have a digital video recorder. DirecTV will download two-minute game highlight clips produced by the NFL to a customer’s DVR by 6 a.m. on Mondays.
DirecTV is exploring the next level of interactive services beyond those three, though Mr. Traynor would not elaborate on them.
Mr. Murdoch’s involvement in DirecTV will drive ITV, Mr. McKechnie said. “He’s going to be aggressive with pricing and marketing. He’s going to bring interactivity to the next level and really push the envelope.” he said. “Programmers and advertisers will get on board, and cable operators will have to step up and use this digital infrastructure to drive ITV applications.”
Programmers that have been aggressive in this area include ABC, which has offered a steady diet of largely two-screen interactivity over the past year during sports broadcasts, awards shows and “The View.”
Sports-centric applications will help drive interactivity, since sports fans tend to be among the first people to try new technology, said Manish Jha, senior VP and general manager, emerging media and data services, at ESPN, which offers ITV applications through Cablevision and DirecTV.
Separately, the NFL last week entered a deal to provide video and audio content, including game-by-game previews and highlights, to America Online’s broadband subscribers.