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USDTV Converting to MPEG-4 AVC

4/10/2006 1:00 AM Eastern

U.S. Digital Television LLC, the no-frills wireless cable service, is converting to state-of-the-art compression technology that will permit it to offer new themed packages, such as Latino tiers.

Officials claimed that USDTV, which is backed by a number of station groups, will become the first domestic TV-service provider to convert its entire network to MPEG-4 AVC (Moving Picture Expert Group/Advanced Video Compression), an advanced video-compression technology.

That breakthrough will permit USDTV to more efficiently use the spectrum it leases from local broadcasters for its low-cost digital-wireless-TV service and to provide a more compelling alternative to low-end cable-operator video services.

“It’s very important for us to be able to hit this technology milestone,” USDTV CEO Steve Lindsley said. “It makes room, under our existing spectrum agreements, to be able to provide more linear channels. And we’re referring to those right now as themed packages.”

For $19.95 per month, subscribers in four markets -- Dallas; Salt Lake City; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Las Vegas -- with USDTV antennas and set-tops can currently receive a digital-TV service that includes roughly 30 channels, including local TV stations and just over one-dozen of the most popular cable networks, like ESPN and Disney Channel.

But with the new compression technology, USDTV will also be able to offer themed-program tiers -- like Spanish-language packages in markets with large Latino populations -- that customers can subscribe to and add on to their base $19.95 package.

“There are a number of genres that are very appealing to us, both from a customer-demand standpoint and profitability, that we’ll be announcing,” said Lindsley, adding that USDTV also plans to offer video-on-demand in the future.

USDTV plans to demonstrate its first live MPEG-4 AVC broadcasts over its digital-terrestrial network at the National Association of Broadcasters convention later this month.

The company’s investors include Fox Television Stations Inc., Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., LIN TV Corp., McGraw Hill Broadcasting, Morgan Murphy Stations and Telecom DTV LLC.

September