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Inside Move: Honchos prep DirecTV plot

Post-merger master plan is still a well-guarded secret

NEW YORK — News Corp. will take the wraps off its DirecTV game plan Thursday as the new senior satcasting team heads to Los Angeles today to rehearse and deliver its DBS battle plan to satellite commander-in-chief Rupert Murdoch, who’s due back from his Australian vacation.

Though the DirecTV master plan is still a well-guarded secret — even to many inside the company — the first phase of attack likely will address staff integration and relocation, cost cuts and customer service improvements.

Chief among the immediate goals of new Hughes CEO Chase Carey and DirecTV chief Mitch Stern will be to reduce the satcaster’s hefty churn rate and cut subscriber acquisition costs.

At the Smith Barney Citigroup media conference Tuesday in Phoenix, News Corp. chief operating officer Peter Chernin declined to comment in detail on the new unit’s plans. He said Hughes management will hit the road to pitch the company to investors in late winter/early spring.

In News Corp.’s first public presentation since the Hughes merger closed, Chernin said the satcaster has given its new parent the perfect mix of content and distribution. “Paint an imaginary picture of the ideal media company,” Chernin urged his audience. “If Comcast merged with Disney and NBC merged with Time Warner, they might come close to that. Now there’s only one company in the world that can … it’s News Corp.”

Key items on Thursday’s agenda will include improving DirecTV call centers and how and when to start bringing customer service inhouse. Company also is expected to address the tricky task of finding a standard set-top box so that it can begin to roll out interactive services and more inexpensive personal video recorders. DirecTV currently employs a range of different box technologies that makes it difficult for News Corp. to add new bells and whistles to the platform.

The new DirecTV team is thought to be anxious to reduce the cost of set-top boxes and would like to work off a global standard that would leverage its technology investment in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Marketing and programming strategy also is on the agenda, particularly the tricky details of how to maximize its program offerings without infringing on the access rules set out by the FCC.

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