DirecTV Rolls Out Multiple Interactive TV Services

--Forms Audience-Measurement Partnership with TNS

US satellite TV provider, DirecTV, continues to roll out interactive TV
services as an integral part of its sports coverage and of its service
offering in general (note: the company is also expected to launch a
VOD service this quarter; a report in the Wall Street Journal stated that
the service will employ a combination of push-VOD and broadband
technologies: a small selection of popular titles will be pushed to
subscribers' DVR's, while around 3,000 titles will be available via those
DVRs' broadband connections, the newspaper said). Among the
highlights:

  • When purchased with the "SuperFan" option, its MLB Extra Innings
    out-of-market subscription service offers a Game Mix channel with a
    mosaic of up to eight live games on a single screen (note: viewers can
    click on any of the games, in order to listen to its audio or watch it in
    full-screen mode). In addition, the regular version of the service
    provides viewers with several interactive features, including
    up-to-the-minute scores from all Major League Baseball teams, info on
    MLB standings and stat leaders, and real-time in-game box scores to
    track game performance for each player.
  • For the 2008 Masters Golf Tournament, the company offered a
    "Masters Mix" mosaic channel that allowed viewers to access three
    supplemental views of the course in addition to a feed of CBS's and
    ESPN's linear-TV coverage. Viewers could use their remotes to switch
    between audio from the mosaic's feeds, and to select one of them to
    watch in full-screen mode. DirecTV subscribers with DVR's could also
    access a selection of supplemental VOD content from the tournament.
  • The company's 2008 NCAA Mega March Madness subscription
    service offered a Game Mix mosaic channel that allowed viewers to
    watch (and access in full-screen mode, if desired) four broadcasts; an
    interactive application that allowed viewers to access real-time
    tournament scores and statistics; and an on-screen tournament bracket
    that allowed viewers to use their remote controls to input and track
    their own game picks. In addition, for the first time, each of the 37
    March Madness games that were available in HD offered access to
    scores and stats via DirecTV's interactive on-screen L-wrap; and
    viewers could schedule DVR recordings of games remotely on the Web
    or on their mobiles, using DirecTV's free DVR Scheduler service. In
    order to promote the service's interactive features, as well as its
    expanded HD coverage, DirecTV hired UCLA Bruins' men's basketball
    head coach, Ben Howland, as its official spokesperson.
  • Its Game Lounge ITV games service has become the exclusive
    provider of Pat Sajak Games' interactive version of "Code Letter
    Crossword Connections," a game that combine's Sajak's patent-pending
    "Code Letter" system with a traditional crossword puzzle; in addition, it
    says that its deal with Pat Sajak Games will result in a number of the
    latter's other titles being launched on the Game Lounge service on an
    exclusive basis (note: Pat Sajak Games' eponymous founder is the
    longtime host of the US gameshow, "Wheel of Fortune"). The deal also
    sees Sajak lending his celebrity to DirecTV's Game Lounge marketing
    efforts. "The success we experienced with Game Lounge last year far
    exceeded our expectations," DirecTV's SVP of new media and business
    development, Steven Roberts, said in a prepared statement (note: the
    company claims that the service last year passed the 130,000-subscriber
    mark and generated over 50 million plays). "This year, we are thrilled
    to be taking the platform to the next level with new and exclusive
    games, as well as bringing on one of gaming's most iconic figures, Pat
    Sajak, to DirecTV Game Lounge. We believe that partnering with
    Sajak will bring a familiarity and comfort level to the platform that will
    resonate well with gamers of all ages." In addition to the new Game
    Lounge titles from Pat Sajak Games, DirecTV plans this year to offer
    new titles from Mattel ("Skip Bo," "Polly Wheels," and "Barbie"),
    Nickelodeon ("Dora the Explorer"), and Cartoon Network ("Samurai
    Jack" and "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends"), as well as
    "Cyberchase," a new, math-based game from WNET New York and
    PBS KIDS GO. Game Lounge offers ITV games in a number of
    categories, including puzzle, word, card, casino, edutainment and
    arcade-style games that are based on prominent consumer and
    entertainment brands. A number of its casual games, including
    "Monopoly," "Slingo," "Scrabble," "Scramble," "Bejeweled 2,"
    "Solitaire" and "Poker," allow players to challenge one another for
    Game Lounge tokens. The service is offered both on a monthly
    subscription basis (for $5.95) and on a category-specific play-per-day
    basis (for $1.95).
  • The company's extensive coverage of the recent South by Southwest
    music festival on its original entertainment channel, The 101, featured
    an ITV application that allowed viewers to access performance
    schedules and information on participating bands and performers.
  • The company's NASCAR Hotpass service now features an
    application that runs under a feed of its national NASCAR broadcasts
    and allows viewers to use their remotes to access in-car audio from 13
    different drivers.

In other DirecTV news: Earlier this year, the company announced a
deal with audience-measurement company, TNS Media Research, to
co-develop TNS DIRECTView, a national opt-in
audience-measurement panel of 100,000 DirecTV subscribers--which it
claimed will be the largest such panel ever. The deal will see TNS
Media Research measuring total viewing--including live and DVR
viewing of programming and commercials--by the 100,000
"representative" households on a second-by-second basis. The deal
builds on an existing partnership between the two companies, under
which TNS launched audience-measurement services last year focused
on DirecTV's interactive subscribers: DirecTV uses the service to better
understand its subscribers' anonymous use of the ITV applications it
offers. TNS will market the new panel through InfoSys, offering
subscription-based services that are billed as providing extremely
detailed data on national viewing patterns. Companies that have signed
up for the new services to date include Starcom Worldwide: "This
announcement is exciting as it is further proof that the digital evolution
is fueling a revolution in television audience measurement," Tracey
Scheppach, Starcom's director of video innovations, said in a prepared
statement. "With the TNS DIRECTView service, Starcom is thrilled to
be able to take another important step in understanding and using
second-by-second behavioral data to acquire more knowledge and
deliver greater accountability on behalf of our advertisers."