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Controversial Smithsonian HD Channel Goes to DirecTV

DirecTV plans to begin carrying the Smithsonian Channel this week (target date Sept. 26) as part of the DBS firm’s expanding menu of HD fare being unveiled in coming months. It will be the first carriage agreement between a major national carrier and Smithsonian Networks, after considerable negotiations.

The HD outlet (DirecTV Channel 267) will be part of the satellite provider’s so-called “HD Xtra Pack.” DirecTV says it currently has about 16.3 million subscriber dwellings.

The Smithsonian Channel, which will serve as the HD venue for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., said its mostly original TV content “will celebrate the American experience” with Smithsonian-produced or financed features, series and documentaries.

The channel comes to pay-TV in the wake of more than 18 months of controversy. About 70 percent of the Smithsonian Institution’s funding comes from tax dollars appropriated by Congress. Yet the Smithsonian had signed over much of its programming on a semi-exclusive basis to premium channel Showtime, and some public interest groups are not happy with the fact that everyone beyond DirecTV’s proprietary subscriber list will not be able to see any programming.

Slicing the audience pie even smaller, the Smithsonian Channel will be available only to DirecTV’s HD-tier subs, who will have to dish out additional monthly fees.