DirecTV now offers local programming


DirecTV users in Baltimore can now receive local television programming through the digital satellite service, but only if they spend around $300 on an upgraded system called DirecTV Plus.

Both current and new users will have to purchase DirecTV Plus to receive local network channels, which include WMAR (ABC), WJZ (CBS), WBAL (NBC), WBFF (Fox) and PBS' national feed. The local channel package will also cost users $5.99 per month.

"Certainly the customers who own a DirecTV system now will continue to receive the full slate of our programming," Robert Mercer, senior manager of communications at DirecTV, said yesterday. "The only difference is that if they want to get those local channels via satellite, they will need to upgrade."

DirecTV is not planning on offering rebates or discounts to current users who wish to upgrade to DirecTV Plus for its local television offerings, Mercer said. But DirecTV users can continue to access local network channels through a basic cable connection or a regular antenna without having to buy DirecTV Plus, he said.

"When we launched DirecTV in 1994, the need to offer programming from multiple slots was not in our business plan," Mercer said. "Nor was the prospect of offering local channels. With the acquisition of additional slots, we were able to expand our capacity, so that markets like Baltimore can now receive those local channels."

In December, Congress gave satellite television services permission to offer their subscribers local broadcast stations. Two leading satellite service providers - DirecTV and EchoStar Communications Corp. - immediately offered local channels in large markets such as New York and Los Angeles.

DirecTV subscribers who want local broadcast network access must pay about $299 for the DirecTV Plus unit, which includes a larger satellite antenna and a multisatellite receiver.

Subscribers to EchoStar's satellite service, which has yet to expand to Baltimore, must pay $99 for a larger satellite dish to pick up their local broadcast network signals, said Judianne Atencio, EchoStar's director of communications.

Subscribers in the top 10 markets receive local network broadcasts without upgrading to DirecTV Plus, Mercer said. But DirecTV users in five markets - Baltimore; Raleigh/Durham, N.C.; Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C.; Pittsburgh and San Diego - will need to buy DirecTV Plus to gain access to local television channels through the satellite service. DirecTV has more than 8.6 million subscribers.

"In a business like this, you're going to plan on a series of upgrades," Mercer said. "As the technology expands, you offer new services, including interactive services."

The DirecTV Plus system includes an 18-by-24-inch oval satellite dish that is capable of receiving signals from two satellites.

The larger satellite dish is necessary to pick up signals coming from two different orbital slots - one offering DirecTV's core programming and the other offering local television programming, Mercer said. The original DirecTV satellite dish is 18 inches in diameter.

DirecTV subscribers who buy DirecTV Plus will have access to local Baltimore channels in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Queen Anne's, Dorchester, Harford, Howard, Kent and Talbot counties.

"People are just very happy that we're able to offer their local channels via satellite," Mercer said.

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