DirecTV tries new offense for NFL coverage

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NEW YORK -- When DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket premium package kicks off Sept. 9, it will break new ground not just on TV but also online.

For the first time, DirecTV will offer up to 11 game telecasts a week online to subscribers to its SuperFan package, which costs $99 on top of the $269 subscribers pay for Sunday Ticket. While the NFL Network has offered some subscribers the ability to watch selected games online, the DirecTV SuperCast marks the first time a broadband service will offer wide access.

DirecTV received the rights to stream the Sunday afternoon games as part of its multimillion-dollar package that it signed with the NFL three years ago. But Eric Shanks, DirecTV's executive vp entertainment, said Wednesday that the company last year didn't feel the reach or the quality was going to be up to standards. But technology and the march of broadband has caught up, he said.

"We think now is the right time," Shanks said. "We can keep the quality of the Sunday Ticket experience online."

The broadband play allows SuperFan subscribers to watch a game away from home or watch two games at the same time, using the same network feeds.

The same rules apply as for the TV service. If a subscriber's local-market game didn't sell out and is blacked out on TV, it also is blacked out for that subscriber online.

DirecTV is moving cautiously into another arena: mobile phones. This year, SuperFan subscribers with compatible video-enabled phones will be able to watch on-demand highlights of games while they are being played. DirecTV plans to talk with the NFL about possibly getting the rights to stream live games on mobile phones, though Shanks said the technology hasn't caught up yet.

But DirecTV also is offering other services to fans on the go.

SatGo brings DirecTV to people who buy the mobile system that fits into a suitcase, including people who want to watch on vacation or even tailgating before a game. And the satcaster said Wednesday that it has expanded its handheld DirecTV service with Kangaroo TV to include stadiums in Seattle and Houston. Last year, Dolphin Stadium in Miami and FedEx Field in Washington allowed the rental or purchase of hand-held devices that gave fans DirecTV service -- including Sunday Ticket games -- during gameday at those venues.

"We think it's a unique way to get Sunday Ticket in front of more people," Shanks said.

DirecTV is looking at offering the service in other sports, perhaps golf and tennis.

"It makes a huge amount of sense. You can't see every hole, you can't see every court" when you're at a venue, he said.

There are service enhancements on TV, too. DirecTV will have 180 high-definition NFL games this year, with CBS' increase from three to at least five per week. DirecTV's Red Zone Channel that cuts to scoring drives and other key plays as they happen is set to go to HD this year as well.

And for fantasy football players, DirecTV has ramped up its interactivity on the TV screen. Last year saw the introduction of a tracker that sends alerts to the screen when a player on the viewer's fantasy football team did something to earn points. This year it's possible to set it for your opponent's team too.
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