DirecTV Kicks Off With HD, Interactive NFL

Satcaster teams up with CBS, GoldPocket to enhance pro football broadcasts


Already the home of the exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package, DirecTV is poised to win more Sunday football fans with its HD and interactive offerings this fall.

CBS Sports and the nation's largest satellite television provider have teamed up to carry the games live each week in high-definition to sports package subscribers during the 17-week season. Broadcast in 1080i, CBS will deliver two weekly games in HD scheduled at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST each Sunday to the DirecTV subscribers.

"The NFL on CBS" in HDTV is one of eight high-definition channels currently carried by DirecTV, which has exclusive rights to the NFL Sunday Ticket Package through the 2004 NFL season. In July, the satellite provider launched an HD programming package that includes ESPN HD, Discovery HD Theater, HDNet and HDNet Movies, HBO HD and Showtime HD.

"The NFL Sunday Ticket package really is the crown jewel of our sports subscription packages," said Bob Marsocci, senior director of corporate communications. "[By offering it in HD], we think it will enhance the appeal of and interest in it."

To get the programs, DirecTV subscribers of the NFL Ticket Package must have an HDTV set, a DirecTV HD set-top box with a multi-satellite dish containing three LNBs (low noise blocdown), which allows customers to get DirecTV HDTV broadcasts and other channels.

Two games are designated by CBS as primary games each week, which are broadcast by CBS to a large portion of national television households via over-the-air and cable connections.

Cable customers with HD-enabled sets or set-top boxes, meanwhile, can catch NFL games in HD if they are in a regional area where the game is being played that week, according to Dana McClintock, CBS vice president of communications. This is the first agreement of its kind for CBS, the network that broadcast the first-ever professional football game back in 1998 and now broadcasts a major part of its primetime programming in high-definition.

With 11.5 million customers, DirecTV could attract more consumers to HDTV with its channels. "HD sets have become more popular in the last year-and-a-half," Marsocci said, declining to disclose the number of DirecTV's HD and NFL Sunday Ticket Package subscribers. The industry and viewers can expect to see more deals between DirecTV and others, he said, as well as more sports programming in HD.


In addition to the HD broadcasts, the NFL Sunday Ticket Package has been revamped this year by DirecTV with interactive enhancements never before offered to its subscribers.

Subscribers with DirecTV digital video recorders (DVR) can now watch post-game highlights of the NFL Sunday Ticket games with the satellite company's new "Highlights on Demand" service. The highlights are delivered to the DVRs Monday morning and are compiled into a two-minute clip that can be watched whenever the subscriber wants.

During the game, DirecTV offers four enhanced game channels that allow viewers to watch one game and see scores as well as stats from other games on one screen thanks to its partnership with GoldPocket Interactive, a Los Angeles-based company whose technology provides real-time, two-way interactive programming. The introduction of box scores shown on screen in an "L-wrap" format means football fans no longer have to switch between games, said Joe Franzetta, GoldPocket senior vice president for business development.

Market research and DirecTV focus groups, Franzetta said, found that football fans are more interested in what is happening throughout the league than in one particular game. With the new package subscribers can visit the website to get alerts, known as the "GameTracker," when the teams are in the "red zone" so they can switch channels or when significant plays have just ocurred. The online component of the interactive system encourages football fans to get involved in Internet chat rooms and monitor "Fantasy Football" scores, Franzetta said.

The real-time interactivity of the GameTracker is provided by GoldPocket's EventMatrix, an interactive network that produces, manages, and delivers two-way interactive programming to viewers. Each Sunday, Franzetta said, a team of monitors watches each game, writing content and compiling statistics that is posted on the EventMatrix and then delivered instantaneously to a variety of platforms including satellite dishes, cable set-top boxes and wireless devices.

While DirecTV hasn't done its own market research on simultaneous viewing and Web surfing, Marsocci believes the stats will draw many Fantasy Football participants to the DirecTV Website. "They can't get enough statistical info," he said. "NFL games have a wealth of info that fans like to keep track of."