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DIRECTV launches spot beam satellite; Sells set-top box division to Thomson

DIRECTV 7S, a spot beam satellite that will deliver hundreds of local broadcast channels to DIRECTV customers in more than 60 markets, has been launched from the ocean-based Sea Launch platform.

DIRECTV 7S will beam to more than 60 markets.

The satellite will enable DIRECTV to expand its local channel programming to an additional 42 markets and transmit local channels to 19 existing local-into-local markets, freeing up capacity on other DIRECTV satellites for delivery of more local channels and other new services. The satellite operator plans to offer local channels in a minimum of 130 markets — representing 92 percent of U.S. TV households — by year-end.

Also, in a move to divest non-essential assets, DIRECTV—now controlled by News Corp. — and its Hughes Network Systems unit has signed a deal to sell Hughes’ set-top box manufacturing business to French electronics firm Thomson. The deal is worth at least $250 million in cash but potentially as much as $400 million depending on certain performance variables.

As to the satellite, controllers are currently in the process of placing the spacecraft into a circular orbit. Over the next few days it will deploy the antennas and solar arrays, test operational functions, and check the communications payload and propulsion system.

DIRECTV expects to begin offering services from 7S at the 119 degree west longitude orbital slot by early June. This the second DIRECTV satellite to be launched on a Zenit-3SL vehicle. In October 1999, Sea Launch successfully delivered DIRECTV 1R to orbit.

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