Bells chime in on DirecTV distribution

Companies ink pact to help ramp up satcaster's sub count

NEW YORK — DirecTV, the largest satellite distributor of cable networks, pay-per-view movies and out-of-market sports, has concluded deals with two Baby Bells, Bell Atlantic and SBC Communications, to help ramp up DirecTV’s subscriber count.

Using as a lure the 200 channels of programming from DirecTV and its sister service USSB, Bell Atlantic will try to get homeowners and apartment dwellers within its 13-state area (which includes New York and Pennsylvania) to lease a satellite dish, a set-top box and a TV antenna that will pull in local-station signals. Bell Atlantic would do the installation and send a technician if the equipment goes on the blink.

The company has already begun contacting apartment-building landlords, says a Bell Atlantic spokesman, and the single-family-home marketing plan begins this summer in two test markets still to be identified.

Customers most likely to be attracted to the plan are people looking for one-stop shopping, relying on Bell Atlantic to supply all of the equipment, do the installation and put everything on one monthly bill, including phone calls as well as satellite TV viewing.

SBC Communications (formerly Southwestern Bell) will start with apartment complexes within the company’s five-state area of Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.

DirecTV’s circulation continues to increase, spurred by a $100 million-a- year advertising and promotion campaign, according to a spokesman. The subscriber count jumped from 2.3 million in January 1997 to 3.3 million in January 1998, and the spokesman says 81,000 dish owners signed up in January 1998, and 70,000 last month.

Sources say DirecTV is negotiating to sign Bell South as a third Baby Bell marketing partner.

Unlikely candidates for a DirecTV partnership, however, are US West and the Chicago-based Ameritech, the final two Baby Bells, both of which have jumped into the cable business and are thus competitors to DirecTV. US West purchased Continental Cablevision, the third largest cable operator in the country, and renamed it Media One. Ameritech is building cable systems in some midwestern cities as rivals to existing systems owned by cable operators.

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