DirecTV defines 7-channel hi-def package

Service to feature ESPN, Discovery, HDNet, sports

Leading U.S. satcaster DirecTV will launch a seven-channel high definition package July 1, in an effort to seize the premium high ground over cable.

Announcement comes a day after Cablevision revealed that its planned Rainbow DBS package likely will feature high definition services, and conceivably could devote far more capacity to hi def than either of its satcasting rivals.

In a pre-emptive pitch to a small but growing high-end video enthusiast market, Hughes-owned DirecTV will launch a $10.99/month package featuring 24-hour services ESPN HD, Discovery HD Theater, HDNet and HDNet Movies, along with special sports events broadcast.

Pro football next

Operator also confirmed that, as part of its five-year deal with the NFL, it will begin offering a high def telecast of the Sunday Ticket games during the 2003 regular NFL season.

DirecTV’s 11.4 million U.S. subs already have had access to HBO and Showtime in HDTV as part of their premium packages.

Cable operators offer some limited HDTV formatted channels and packages, while Echostar presently offers 3 HDTV channels.

But future capacity constraints could limit how much DirecTV or rival Echostar can transmit in high definition, since the format requires four times the bandwidth of a standard definition channel, and both providers are scrambling to add local channels in a bid to compete with digital cable.

Though Cablevision has not yet fully articulated its strategy for the forthcoming satcasting service (Daily Variety, June 3), a niche Rainbow DBS service focused primarily on high definition channels would allow the start-up to focus on mainly high end viewers while limiting the funding requirements.

While roughly half of all broadcast network programming is now broadcast in high definition, relatively few households are equipped to receive it, due to the high costs of the TV sets.

DirecTV is in the process of being acquired by News Corp.