Bell Atlantic, satellite TV firms link up Telephone company to offer DirecTV, USSB to customers

Coming to 2 'major markets'

Agreement seeks to attract consumers with '1-stop shopping'


March 03, 1998|By Mark Ribbing | Mark Ribbing,SUN STAFF

Bell Atlantic Corp. is trying -- again -- to get into television.

The Northeast's dominant local telephone company said yesterday that it has reached marketing and distribution agreements with two major satellite-television firms, DirecTV Inc. and U.S. Satellite Broadcasting.

Under the agreements, Bell Atlantic will install, maintain and bill DirecTV and USSB services for consumers. Bell Atlantic customers will be able to get their monthly telephone and satellite-television charges on a single bill.

The specific financial terms and duration of the multiyear deal were not disclosed. Bell Atlantic plans to launch the new services by summer in two as-yet-unidentified "major markets" within the company's local telephone service territory, which stretches from Maine to Virginia.

The companies said they are trying to court hurried, convenience-hungry customers who don't want to bother with going to an electronics store and installing equipment themselves. Bell Atlantic and its partners hope these customers will be charmed by the prospect of buying telephone and television services in one fell swoop, with installation service thrown in as part of the package.

Bell Atlantic spokesman Larry Plumb said, "people are intrigued by the services they see but are put off by the complexity. We're addressing this to those customers."

Patrick Milan, a spokesman for USSB of St. Paul, Minn., said, "you could buy a satellite dish at Circuit City or Best Buy, but there are some customers for whom that's outside their comfort zone. They want a single phone call. They want help with installation."

Jeff Torkelson, a spokesman for El Segundo, Calif.-based DirecTV, said the alliance with Bell Atlantic could give DirecTV unparalleled access to an important market: People who have just moved to a new home. "Often the first call a new resident makes is to set up phone service," he said. Bell Atlantic could use this introductory call to sell television service along with a phone line.

The agreements cover the single-family home market. Plumb said the companies are close to finalizing agreements on the commercial and apartment sectors. He added that negotiations have already begun with apartments and offices throughout Bell Atlantic's region, including Baltimore.

The agreement marks Bell Atlantic's latest bid to break into the television market after a series of false starts. Many critics have chided Bell Atlantic and the other regional phone companies for moving too slowly on their promise to provide competition to cable-television companies.

Bell Atlantic's Plumb said, "this is competition. This is delivering on that promise."

Scott C. Cleland, a telecommunications analyst for Legg Mason Precursor Group in Washington, D.C., said he was skeptical that the agreement would lead to full-blown competition between Bell Atlantic and the cable firms. "It's probably not a major move," he said. "It's probably a supplemental, tactical move. Everybody's trying to bundle, to give customers one-stop shopping. Nobody yet has come close."

"There have been few things more snakebit than the telephone companies trying to get into cable," he added.

For its part, the Baltimore area's biggest cable company said it is unfazed by the fact that some of its top potential rivals are now in cahoots. Comcast Corp. spokesman David Nevins said "Comcast has been competing against DirecTV for quite some time now, and we are confident that we fare very well in the marketplace."

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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