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· Banned
609 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As chairman and chief executive of Fox Sports Television Group, David Hill has thrown the industry a few curveballs.

He gave the hockey puck a neon glow so viewers could see it better on the TV screen. Then, he made first-down lines yellow in pro football games. Perhaps his biggest consumer-friendly innovation is the "Fox box" — now a fixture across TV sports — an on-screen reminder of the score and the time remaining.

Now the 59-year-old maverick Australian is bringing his flair for invention to another News Corp. property — DirecTV. Today, the nation's leading satellite TV provider will unveil Hill's first big bet: a weekly, one-hour live-music program that will be available exclusively to DirecTV's 15 million subscribers.

A spinoff of a top-rated British program, "CD USA" will feature interviews, behind-the-scenes reports and performances by as many as seven bands per episode, including big-name acts such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Linkin Park.

"MTV has moved away from music. The only time you see live performances nowadays is in the Grammys," said Hill, who last year was dispatched to shake things up at DirecTV by his boss, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch. With the new Saturday show, Hill said, he seeks to do more than fill "a glaring hole in our lineup."

"The hope is that it sparks a schoolyard conversation on Monday morning," he said, "and that little Suzy comes home and tells her mom that unless she has it, she'll be a social pariah."

"CD USA" and other new offerings in the coming months represent the first major consumer initiatives by DirecTV since Murdoch took control two years ago. They also mark the El Segundo-based satellite TV provider's entry into production at a time of intensifying competition with cable TV operators.

By March, DirecTV expects to add two more programs: a dating service that Hill describes as a "shopping mall for singles," and "The Massive Gaming League," which will feature video game tournaments.

"This is going to be the next big thing in sports," predicted Hill, pointing to the popularity of such face-offs in Japan.

The programming initiatives, which will be supported by advertising, provide a glimpse of Murdoch's plans for squeezing value out of News Corp.'s recent $1.6-billion investment in the Internet.

Hill said programs would target the Apple iPod generation that he refers to as "boomer shadows." These 80 million or so offspring of baby boomers, who are ages 10 to 29, "are going to rule the world of public opinion," Hill said. "These teenagers have more disposable income than ever before."

Although teenagers are a fickle, hard-to-reach group, Hill says promotional tie-ins on News Corp.'s Web properties will help drive them to DirecTV Channel 101, where the original programming will run.

For instance, he said, members of News Corp.'s MySpace.com, a social networking site popular among teenagers, will vote on which of the more than 200,000 bands that post music on the website should perform on "CD USA" that week.

Similarly, there will be a yet-to-be-determined tie-in between the Massive Gaming League and IGN, a video game site bought by News Corp. last year.

"As his strategy unfolds, we'll work with him," Ross Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, said of Hill. Cooperation will come easily, Levinsohn said, since he previously worked with many members of Hill's DirectTV team when they all were at Fox Sports.

"David has Rupert's ear. He's one of Rupert's go-to guys," said Levinsohn, who previously ran Fox Sports' new-media ventures. "He's fearless. He's passionate. He's fun to be around. He goes a mile a second. Some people think outside the box. David thinks outside the universe."

Hill's entrepreneurial zeal, a hallmark of Fox and News Corp., came as a culture shock to many DirecTV employees. Under the company's previous owner, General Motors Corp., the environment was slower-paced, hierarchical and bureaucratic.

By contrast, the News Corp. style is to push authority down the ranks. Employees sink or swim. Decision-making can be rapid fire and strategic directions can shift overnight.

DirecTV insiders said they learned quickly that Hill would not tolerate being told "no."

Impatient for change, Hill brought in a new marketing team to emphasize the television experience rather than simply the technical wizardry that the engineers who had launched the service in 1994 had stressed.

He tinkered with the scripts read by customer service representatives, vowing to make the experience of calling DirecTV more conversational.

Then he started fiddling with DirecTV's programming. For hard-core football fans, he added to DirecTV's signature "NFL Sunday Ticket" package of games by offering several extras. For an additional fee, subscribers can get a channel of highlights from all eight games across the league, two channels that allow them to switch back and forth among the games, and a channel that gives them a shortcut through the games without commercials.

"Everything he touches is successful," said Steve Bornstein, president of the NFL Network and former head of Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN. "He has a unique perception of what fans want and then goes about creating it."

DirecTV insiders say Hill has begun to re-energize the troops after a period of high turnover and low morale. Most of DirecTV's top management has been replaced since Murdoch took charge and installed a new team led by television veteran Chase Carey as chairman.

Some early miscalculations contributed to the turmoil, according to analysts and former DirecTV executives. A plan by Murdoch to move DirecTV's headquarters to New York created distress in the ranks before it was scrapped. Murdoch's choice as DirecTV president, Mitch Stern, fueled subscriber growth. But he was ousted after about 15 months because of repeated clashes with Carey.

Hill's new slate of programming comes at a time of change throughout the industry.

In recent months, both cable and satellite TV providers have sought to differentiate themselves by unveiling exclusive features and programming. For example, customers of both services will soon be able to order network series such as CBS' "Survivor" and NBC's "The Office" on a per-episode basis. On Wednesday, as Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s cable unit launched a new exercise channel on each of their video-on-demand services, DirecTV took the wraps off a special package of family channels, following a similar move by the cable industry last month in response to political pressures.

But particularly because Murdoch owns television channels and networks, a movie studio and satellite operations worldwide, analysts had expected many more dramatic changes by now.

Not surprisingly, cable operators scoffed Thursday when told of DirecTV's original programs.

"The concepts don't sound ground-breaking," said Fred Dressler, a top executive at Time Warner Cable, noting that concert series were available online and that Comcast already had a dating service available on video on demand. "Sounds like a weak response to cable's video-on-demand offerings."

Some analysts are also skeptical that DirecTV can break through the clutter.

"DirecTV is taking baby steps to becoming a mini-HBO," said Craig Moffett, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "But with only 15 million subscribers, it will be hard to justify the kinds of investments that attract top talent or generate sufficient buzz to attract non-subscribers to DirecTV."

Hill would not discuss his programming budgets but acknowledged that he was spending heavily on the new initiatives.

"It's bloody expensive," he said of the live-music program, which has three hosts and an elaborate set with multiple staging areas in Los Angeles.

Hill doesn't seem worried. Happiest calling the shots in the production truck at a football game, he'll be in Seattle this Sunday producing the National Football Conference championship game.

Probably the only person alive who has run a network sports division in three countries, Hill ran the sports division of Australia's Nine Network before being tapped in 1988 by Murdoch to start Sky Television, Britain's first satellite TV service. By 1991, Hill had launched Britain's only dedicated sports channel, Sky Sports.

Two years later, he joined Fox Broadcasting as president of Fox Sports, which changed the power structure of network TV by snaring rights to the coveted NFL games from CBS.

In the late 1990s, Hill spent several years overseeing the Fox broadcast network but found the phoniness in Hollywood hard to take.

To create "CD USA," Hill turned to an old friend and seasoned music producer. Conor McAnally, an executive at Blaze Television, has produced "CD UK" for six years, turning it into one of Britain's top-rated programs. Hill's daughter Jane works for McAnally as a producer on the show.

Everyone agrees that scheduling as many as seven acts a week for "CD USA" will be a bear.

"Not a lot of people do live stuff because it's hard," said Tom Calderone, general manager of Viacom Inc.'s VH1 channel. "You need the right relationships, you need to be sensitive to artists' needs. The scheduling and remixing can be complicated."

McAnally acknowledged that the project was challenging. He is betting the show will benefit logistically and financially from the fact that "CD UK" has worked out many of the kinks.

"You couldn't start a show like this from scratch today," he said.


· What happened, TiVo?
2,219 Posts
Mostly pointless. For 2 hours a week, way too much hype.

And teenagers aren't buying DirecTV, adults are. Very weird to target them.

Give me more programming, not dating services. Please.

· Registered
80 Posts
Same here.
Once Comcast is all digital in my area and (hopefully) using TiVos, it might be time to say bye-bye to DirecTV. I've been a subscriber since the USSB days but they seem to be spending an awful lot of time and resources on things I'm not interested in these days. I'm not saying they're wrong, but they're wrong for me.

· A repeated victim of Time Warner DBA Spectrum
171 Posts
I don't think we old codgers are "getting it".....

The point is to shake things up. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, don't do it any more and try something else. And that works for me, even at 50+ :) .

· Registered
1,440 Posts
If this were to be a live show up to the standard of BBC's "Later...with Jools Holland" then I would embrace it, but when you give me Jessica Simpson and the Goo Goo Dolls in your premiere show I can tell that standard isn't what they're aiming for.

· That's all I know!
2,538 Posts
"MTV has moved away from music. The only time you see live performances nowadays is in the Grammys," said Hill, who last year was dispatched to shake things up at DirecTV by his boss, News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch.
I could have sworn that most of the late night talk shows have a live performance every night. Or don't those count?


· Zippity Do Da
34 Posts
dswallow said:
It's official. DirecTV has gone off the deep end, and I'm actually agreeing with cable execs. Hell hath frozen over.
LOL .....Ditto.

phodg said:
Same here.
Once Comcast is all digital in my area and (hopefully) using TiVos, it might be time to say bye-bye to DirecTV. I've been a subscriber since the USSB days but they seem to be spending an awful lot of time and resources on things I'm not interested in these days. I'm not saying they're wrong, but they're wrong for me.
Ever since they started dumping the HR10-250's and asking for 2 year commits on any change short of a sneeze, it didn't take much math the figure out they were beginning to grab for straws (retain subs) in lieu of the coming shakeout. Cable has indeed made up a lot of ground recently...so I'm also looking long and hard at options. Went and checked out my CC's HD DVR today and although no TiVo...it weren't too shabby. Definely head and shoulders above the new D* software/GUI. It has dual buffered tuners, PIP, caller ID and a few other cool but not critical features the DTiVo boxes don't have...all for nearly the same I'm paying now. Should the rumored rate hike come to be, the MPEG4 compressed HD look like it sounds and/or my DTivo go teets up...it looks like Cable may win out. I think I could tolerate their Explorer 8000 until the CC HD Tivo comes within my range....then it will become a no-brainer.

Your last sentence is about as well as I've heard it put.

· Registered
497 Posts
austinsho said:
I don't think we old codgers are "getting it".....

The point is to shake things up. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, don't do it any more and try something else. And that works for me, even at 50+ :) .
I think this is so true. I am only 31 - and I "don't get it" either.

The generation below me is something like we haven't seen before. They have more cash to spend (like mentioned in the article) - our country's wealth has made it possible for 10 year olds to carry high tech cell phones to school. I never had anything like that (nor did I need or want it).

They are targeting the audience that is going to make them profitable in 10 years, not those of us who are keeping them afloat now. They figure most people that are happy with their current service will just stay on. Those of us who are looking for something else will move on - but our actual time with them is limited anyway - we won't be living forever and paying our bills for eternity. They are starting to tap the next generation that will be paying their bills after we have moved on to something else. If we leave - they won't care as long as they sign up 2 or 3 new "kids" for each one of us that leaves.

Think of it like this - what do most of us think about Oldsmobile? An old person's car. They never adapted the brand and their customer base died off! They literally ran out of customers! Oldsmobile was shut down by GM. In my opinion, if DirecTV doesn't do something to attract the next generation of decision makers they will lose out to someone who does.

It's kind of like us Gen Xers. I would always get tired of hearing about the baby boomers - so anything that was directed at the GenX crowd was appealing to me. Now this upcoming generation gets tired of hearing about GenX and Baby Boomers. DirecTV will grab on to that and be the only Media company that is targeting them where they live at - on the web. We may think this is stupid, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the IPod crowd (Boomer Shadow as they call it) would do anything to see an exclusive performance of their favorite band. Hey, I don't get the point of watching a TV show on a phone either, but that thing is taking off like wild fire with the High School crowd (and these phones are $400)! My goal was always to watch TV on the biggest screen possible, with the best sound possible. Their goal is to watch it anywhere - picture quality and sound quality be damned.

Some of this news is dis-heartening to me because I just got the HR10-250 and have a new 2 year commitment. Now I am locked into a 2 year agreement. We'll just see how things shake out over the next year.


· Registered
26 Posts
Jon J said:
Now, where is that mailer from Comcast about their latest/greatest offer? :eek:
I wish Comcast would buy Adelphia. I tried to defect from D* to Adelphia and came back within a week. The picture on the lower analog channels looked worse than OTA. Their HDTV receiver w/ Moxi was buggy as heck. I desperately want to leave D*, but no better alternative exists for me right now.

· Registered
107 Posts
D is really pissing me off w/ all this BS.

2- yr. committment; rebates that don't work for many; rate increases; new in-house DVR no better (maybe worse) than the old one; compressed signal; lousy CSRs; lousy tech support; unhackable equpt. leasing; etc

i'm starting to get that lousy cablevision feeling w/ them.

i gotta face it- D just isn't cool anymore. :mad:

i turned a friend onto D 2 months ago and tonight she told me she is going back to cable because even though the programming is better at D, at least she could watch what cable offered! she's had nothing but problems since day 1, starting w/ a bad DVR. she intermittently loses her local signals, even though signal strength is in the lo 90s. highly susceptible to rain/snow fade. techs have been there to replace bad DVR but D says she'll have to pay a $100 service call fee to have them back again to deal w/ the locals problem- wtf, she can't even watch her locals and they are gonna charge her to fix the problem? i suggested she use this forum before giving up- i hope she does. btw, she asked about her rebate and they said they have no record of it- perfect!

· Registered
27 Posts
I, myself am very excited about the show CDUSA tonight at 5pm CT. I love watching bands play live, so I will be tuning in. As long as Directv has every sports package known to man then they got me for life. I had comcast for 2 years and it was miserable. DVR sucks with Comcast and programming with Comcast is a joke.

· Registered
4,255 Posts
What DirecTV doesn't seem to understand is that the new generation may be interested in some of these new services, but they need to get their priorities straight - people want:

1) High quality programming
2) Fair pricing
3) Good customer service

before bells and whistles make a difference.

Raising the price of packages, further compressing the few HD channels while reducing the quality of the SD channels and having CSRs use a random answer generator when customers call in for anything other than simple activation questions isn't the way to keep existing customers. let alone entice new ones to join. And then of course there's the matter of dropping the premiere DVR service for some second-rate knockoff ...

Be interesting to see what happens to the DTV churn rate in two years when the existing contracts expire.
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