DirecTV Joins Family Theme Trend

Big media outfits move to forestall a government decency push.
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Seeking to outflank the government on the decency front,

News Corp.'s

(NWS) - Get Report

DirecTV

(DTV)

became the latest media giant to offer a family programming package.

A number of cable and satellite companies have launched family-friendly programming tiers in response to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's

statements last year to a congressional hearing.

The largest cable operators,

Time Warner

(TWX)

and

Comcast

(CMCSA) - Get Report

, both said in December that they would offer family-friendly tiers of channels such as the Disney Channel and Discovery Kids in a bid to appease groups calling for more parental control over their television sets.

Now satellite operator DirecTV is making the move, hoping to pre-empt prolonged political debate and perhaps avoid potential legislation on so-called a la carte programming options for consumers.

The cable and satellite industries gave no thanks for Martin's late November comment that he favors a la carte pricing of cable programming. Martin said enabling consumers to choose individual channels instead of bundles might be cost-effective for consumers. The agency also concluded that themed tiers, such as family programming, could be a boon to subscribers.

The stance was largely seen as a negative for cable investors, who think the big operators would see steep profit declines under a system that allowed people to cherry-pick actual stations that they want to see rather than the full offering of diverse channels, many of which no one actually watches.

With cable valuations already in the toilet, many industry investors felt the overhang of pending FCC moves was acting as another negative and driving further uncertainty in an already troubled industry.

The DirecTV Total Choice package will be made available by April and will include more than 40 channels of programming that the company says is suitable for family and younger viewers. Those channels include some of the most popular family-oriented offerings, like Disney, PBS Kids Sprout and National Geographic, as well as 12 "Public Interest" channels that provide a wide array of programming including

National Religious Broadcast Network

and

World Harvest TV

. It will be available for $34.99 a month.

"The new DirecTV Total Choice Family programming package is appropriate for viewing by family members of all ages and includes popular children's, religious and general family entertainment programming," said Dan Fawcett, executive vice president, programming, DirecTV. "We have answered the call from concerned parents and policymakers and have designed a programming package to meet the needs of DirecTV families."