According to a story in The Wall Street Journal today, DirecTV is working on a video-on-demand (VOD) service of its own that it plans to launch in the second quarter of this year.

The weak link to date for satellite providers has been their inability to compete with cable operators’ VOD offerings, but that could change.

The satellite operators’ problem has always been the lack of a true back channel, which makes it hard to interact with the satellite headend. One technique DirecTV will employ for its on-demand service is “push VOD,” where movies are downloaded to a reserved area on customers’ digital video recorders (DVRs).

The potential downside to downloading content onto subscribers’ DVRs is that the movies could take up memory space that customers want to use to record and save their own shows.

While cable operators are looking at opening up their set-top boxes (STBs) to the Internet, DirecTV will pull in additional movies by streaming them over the Web to the DirecTV STBs of customers with broadband connections.

Roughly half of DirecTV’s subscriber base currently has a high-speed Internet connection.

With streaming content, viewers could have to wait for movies to download before being able to watch them, while cable VOD users are able to view their choices right away. High-definition (HD) content, which DirecTV is known for, could also be problematic since it requires roughly four times the bandwidth needed to deliver standard-definition content into subscribers’ homes.

On the plus side, DirecTV sees VOD as a way to sell targeted ads to consumers.

According to the WSJ story, DirecTV will offer about 3,000 titles, with most of those being accessed via the Internet. The newer, more-popular titles will be a fraction of the 3,000 titles, but those are more likely to be downloaded into DVRs.

By contrast, Comcast has more than 10,000 titles available for on-demand viewing each month, with 90 percent of those titles available for free. The company plans to offer more than 1,000 HD movies, TV shows and other viewing choices monthly by the end of the year, along with making more TV network programming available in HD.

Currently, there are about 275 million views per month across the various categories in Comcast’s VOD tier, with customers hitting the play button 100 times per second.

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• DirecTV gearing up for VOD offering 

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