September 03, 2005

DirecTV Launches Interactive TV Channel to Aid Hurricane Victims

Originally posted by itvtblog from [itvt] Bloggit, reBlogged by ts

—Channel Features Text-Messaging Service, Powered by GoldPocket

Directvsmsgoldpocketkatrina2005 Satellite TV provider, DirecTV, has launched a dedicated 24/7 channel (channel 100 on the DirecTV EPG) to provide information about Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery efforts to evacuees and others. The channel allows customers of any US wireless carrier to send text messages (using the shortcode 48433) to friends and family separated as a result of the hurricane and its aftermath, and scrolls those messages across the bottom of the TV screen. Viewers can also email their messages to DirecTV says that it is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Red Cross to install its television service at the Houston Astrodome (where it will appear on jumbotron screens) and other temporary shelters throughout the Gulf Coast region, in order to ensure that the channel is available to those who need it most; the company says that it is also working to ensure that local, state and federal officials are aware of the availability of the channel as a means of communicating with hurricane refugees. The channel provides around 40 rotating slides on, among other things: road closures throughout the Gulf region; counties/parishes in the Gulf region that are able to assist evacuees; the locations and phone numbers of special needs shelters in Louisiana; shelter openings throughout the Gulf region; insurance company contact information; and relief agency contact information (including the phone numbers of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Feed the Children). The information on the slides is gathered from a variety of sources, including FEMA, the Red Cross, and the New Orleans Times- Picayune newspaper. In addition to informational slides, the channel broadcasts live pool feeds of official announcements about relief efforts.

The channel’s text-messaging service is powered by GoldPocket Wireless’s EM Connect technology which the company is providing free of charge: “GoldPocket’s technology automatically plugged into our Pinnacle Deko real-time graphics system, and into a template that we are using that already had a scroll on it,” DirecTV’s SVP of advanced services and content, Eric Shanks, told [itvt] earlier today. “We called them yesterday afternoon, and we were up and running in less than three hours.” [itvt] asked Shanks how the idea for the new channel had come about: “We had a meeting yesterday, and my boss, David Hill [president of the DirecTV Entertainment Group], had the idea that we should do something to help the hurricane victims that we are in a unique position to do, rather than just donating money or just giving people credits on their bills. [Note: DirecTV has suspended billing of customers in the regions affected by the hurricane, and has also instituted a matching program for employee donations.] So we decided we would use some of our infrastructure to help aid agencies and officials communicate with people affected by the disaster, and also to allow those people to communicate with each other. As you know, a massive number of people are currently unable to communicate with their loved ones, because phone service is largely down in the Gulf region. So we started gathering information from FEMA, the Red Cross and other entities, we called GoldPocket to see how quickly they could set us up to allow people to text in messages to loved ones, and we began programming an information channel. We set up a full control center here in Marina del Rey with a producer, director, technical director and other TV crew, and we now have producers filtering all the incoming text messages and emails, and putting them in the queue for GoldPocket’s tool to publish on the channel.”

[itvt] asked Shanks how the response to the new channel has been so far: “We went on the air at 6:00PM Pacific time yesterday, with just the informational part of the channel, and then at 10:00PM we started airing slides that let people know about the channel’s text-messaging and email service,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to see much response until the morning, but, even though it was the wee hours of the night, hundreds of messages had already been sent in by 6:00AM this morning.” Shanks added that, while DirecTV’s public relations representatives have started to aggressively promote the channel and its communications service, he believes much of its traffic has been generated by word-of-mouth on discussion boards on (the Web site of the New Orleans Times-Picayune) and other sites. “People are desperate to get word out to their loved ones by any means they can,” he said. Shanks also told us that DirecTV will tonight begin cross-promoting the new channel on its other channels.