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News Analysis
By Swanni

Washington, D.C. (May 5, 2011) -- DIRECTV yesterday angered many HD subscribers when it added Shorts HD to the satcaster's $4.99 a month 'HD Extra Pack' package. The obscure channel, which features short live action and animated movies, was hardly in great demand among HD owners.

 In fact, it's likely that few high-def viewers had even heard of Shorts HD before yesterday; several subscriber emails to TVPredictions.com referred to it as 'Sports HD.'

So, then, why did DIRECTV add the niche channel when it could have instead added more popular alternatives such as AMC HD, BBC America HD, E! Entertainment HD, Turner Classic Movies HD, National Geographic Wild HD and a host of other basic cable channels still only available in SD on DIRECTV.

The answer is simple: Money.

Will Mad Men ever be in HD on DIRECTV?
DIRECTV, which was once the industry's undisputed HD leader, has become quite stingy in adding new HD channels over the last two years. The satcaster has concluded that the cost to acquire the HD rights to the aforementioned basic cable channels would far exceed any benefit it might receive in subscriber gains or subscriber retention.

So long as subscribers don't drop the service over the lack of basic cable HD, DIRECTV really doesn't care if they are happy or unhappy. If they keep paying the bills, that's all DIRECTV cares about it.

And DIRECTV has a point. Recent financial reports have shown that DIRECTV's subscriber totals have risen while some rivals have reported that subscriber numbers have fallen. In order words, there's little evidence that a significant number of people are  dropping DIRECTV because it hasn't added AMC HD, BBC America HD, E! Entertainment HD, etc. etc.

But there is evidence that DIRECTV's premium programming packages -- the HD Extra Pack and its HBO and Cinemax subscriptions -- have lost subscribers, or at least, failed to gain many in the past year or so. Consequently, DIRECTV has decided to use its satellite space to add more premium HD channels, such as the Sony Movie Channel and Shorts HD in the Extra Pack, and more HBO and Cinemax HD channels in the coming weeks.

The company hopes that the additional premium HD channels will boost subscriptions to the premium programming packages which generate a greater profit for DIRECTV. Plus, as a bonus, the cost to acquire a channel like Shorts HD is much less than the cost to acquire, let's say, AMC HD.

So, bottom line: If you want more basic cable HD from DIRECTV, you need to threaten to drop the service. Or, better yet, you need to just drop it. That's the only message that DIRECTV will take seriously in this economic environment.

Until people start leaving over basic cable HD, DIRECTV has little vested interest in adding more basic cable HD channels.

Yes, it's that simple.

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Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He has been quoted in dozens of publications and broadcast outlets, including CNN, Fox News, Inside Edition, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Financial Times, The Associated Press and The Hollywood Reporter. He can be reached at swann@tvpredictions.com or at 703-505-3064.

Click TVPredictions.com to read more news and features on TV technology. 

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