Two leading satellite television operators have started broadcasting more local channels in the largest U.S. cities, eliminating one of the last major differences between their lineups and cable TV.
Hughes Electronics Corp.'s DirecTV and EchoStar Communications Corp.'s DishNetwork had been carrying only the most popular local stations in selected markets--41 cities for DirecTV, 36 for DishNetwork.
Spurred by a federal deadline, however, the two services have begun offering a more complete lineup of local stations in those markets, including public broadcasters and independent stations.
In Los Angeles, the change will add about 15 stations to the satellite lineups. The companies said the expansion wouldn't change the price of the local-channel package, which is $5 to $6 a month.
Congress had given satellite operators until Jan. 1 to carry all the local stations wherever they offered any local channels, just as cable operators must do.
DirecTV and EchoStar unsuccessfully fought the mandate in Congress and in court, saying they didn't have the capacity to carry every local channel in more than a few dozen communities.
EchoStar now is attempting to buy DirecTV, arguing that the combination would enable it to carry local channels in more cities.
Now that parity has been achieved on the local front, the main programming advantage for some cable systems is the ability to watch movies on demand.
DirecTV's main edge is exclusive sports packages, such as NFL games, while DishNetwork offers the most extensive lineup of foreign-language channels.
DishNetwork also offers KCBS' high-definition TV signal in Los Angeles, which the cable operators have yet to add to their systems.