Sat auds can dial up service

More than 2.5 million residents have access to phone-order equipment

The deal DirecTV and its sister satellite distributor USSB signed last March with Bell Atlantic has finally borne fruit, giving potential subscribers on the East Coast access to their 200 channels of basic-cable networks, pay TV networks and pay-per-view movies and sports.

For the first time, more than 2.5 million residents in the Bell Atlantic service area — which includes New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey — will be able to call a toll-free phone number and order the equipment, including an 18-inch satellite dish and full installation by Bell Atlantic technicians, for $199.

A spokesman for Bell Atlantic says one big selling point is that Bell Atlantic will build in to the equipment package an over-the-air antenna that will allow the subscriber to pull in all local-station signals. This strategy addresses one of the disadvantages of satellite distributors: They simply don’t have the bandwidth to offer the local TV stations. This handicap forces many subscribers to buy the “lifeline” tier from the cable system for up to $10 extra a month.

Another potential asset is that Bell Atlantic will allow customers to rent the expensive set-top boxes for $5.99 a month. Otherwise, DirecTV subscribers would have to buy the boxes outright, for a price that ranges between $300 and $500 each.

“This could become a real marketing opportunity for Bell Atlantic to sign up people who are moving,” says Bruce Leichtman, a media analyst for The Yankee Group. “The first company you call in a new house is the phone company, which could offer one-stop-shopping for satellite TV as well.”

In addition to the $199 installation charge and the $5.99-a-month set-top-box fee, the Bell Atlantic/DirecTV subscriber can choose a 57-channel package of basic-cable networks for $29.99 a month. A multiplex pay-TV offering is available for as little as $10.99 a month extra from USSB, and a pay-per-view movie on one of the 55 channels dedicated to PPV costs $2.99.

DirecTV is also in the first year of a three-year exclusive deal with the National Football League, which serves up an out-of-market package that can add as many as 13 different games on a busy NFL Sunday to football junkies who pony up the extra fee.

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