DirecTV Makes Difficult HD Decisions

To paraphrase the Stones, you can’t always watch what you want, especially if you’re an HDTV customer of DirecTV. As reported by Phillip Swann in TV Predictions, the service has selectively shut down certain HD channels on a temporary basis in recent weeks. First TNT HD, then HDNet, and most recently Universal HD.

The reason for the shutdowns was to make room for the system’s coverage of the NFL football games in HD. And this reveals a weakness in the satellite model for broadcasting television. It can cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to launch a satellite into space, and that’s not including the cost of the satellite itself. As a result, there are a limited number of satellites, and they have a limited amount of capacity — bandwidth — to broadcast signals. DirecTV does not have enough bandwidth to broadcast all the NFL games and still maintain their normal schedule of HD programming. The company is addressing this problem by launching additional satellites and using more efficient compression, but as HD programming expands, capacity will likely be an ongoing challenge for the satellite services.