SBJ/June 9 - 15, 2003/This Weeks Issue

DirecTV to put ESPN HD on new tier

DirecTV plans to add ESPN HD to its service as part of a soon-to-launch high-definition tier.

For $10.99 a month, DirecTV customers will receive ESPN HD, Discovery HD Theater, HD Net and HD Net Movies, starting on July 1.

Mark Cuban's HD Net, which has rights to the NHL and MLS, had previously been available to DirecTV customers as part of the basic Total Choice package, but DirecTV has now added the HD Net Movies channel and put both on the HD tier.

DirecTV has 180,000 customers who have special set-top boxes that enable them to receive high-definition signals. That represents roughly half the total high-definition pay television market, experts said. It is ESPN's largest distribution deal to date for ESPN HD, which launched in April and will carry about 100 live sporting events a year.

A DirecTV spokesperson said the deal to carry ESPN HD is not part of any broader agreement that would restructure DirecTV's primary carriage agreement with ESPN and its affiliated networks. ESPN has floated a long-term proposal to cable and satellite operators that would reduce the annual price increases on ESPN in exchange for carrying ESPN HD and other services, but to date no operator has accepted the offer.

— Andy Bernstein

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