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Technology of satellite television
Direct broadcast via satellite
Television receive-only
Early history of satellite television
Beginning of the satellite TV industry
TVRO/C-band satellite era
1990s to present of satellite television
History of Freesat
Video on demand
Reception equipment of satellite television
Technical details of satellite television



TVRO/C-band satellite era


By 1980, satellite television was well established in the USA and Europe. On 26 April 1982, the first satellite channel in the UK, Satellite Television Ltd. (later Sky One), was launched. Its signals were transmitted from the ESA's Orbital Test Satellites. Between 1981 and 1985, TVRO systems' sales rates increased as prices fell. Advances in receiver technology and the use of gallium arsenide FET technology enabled the use of smaller dishes. Five hundred thousand systems, some costing as little as $2000, were sold in the US in 1984. Dishes pointing to one satellite were even cheaper. People in areas without local broadcast stations or cable television service could obtain good-quality reception with no monthly fees. The large dishes were a subject of much consternation, as many people considered them eyesores, and in the US most condominiums, neighborhoods, and other homeowner associations tightly restricted their use, except in areas where such restrictions were illegal. These restrictions were altered in 1986 when the Federal Communications Commission ruled all of them illegal. A municipality could require a property owner to relocate the dish if it violated other zoning restrictions, such as a setback requirement, but could not outlaw their use. The necessity of these restrictions would slowly decline as the dishes got smaller.

Originally, all channels were broadcast in the clear (ITC) because the equipment necessary to receive the programming was too expensive for consumers. With the growing number of TVRO systems, the program providers and broadcasters had to scramble their signal and develop subscription systems.

In October 1984, the U.S. Congress passed the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which gave those using TVRO systems the right to receive signals for free unless they were scrambled, and required those who did scramble to make their signals available for a reasonable fee. Since cable channels could prevent reception by big dishes, other companies had an incentive to offer competition. In January 1986, HBO began using the now-obsolete VideoCipher II system to encrypt their channels. Other channels used less secure television encryption systems. The scrambling of HBO was met with much protest from owners of big-dish systems, most of which had no other option at the time for receiving such channels, claiming that clear signals from cable channels would be difficult to receive. Eventually HBO allowed dish owners to subscribe directly to their service for $12.95 per month, a price equal to or higher than what cable subscribers were paying, and required a descrambler to be purchased for $395. This led to the attack on HBO's transponder Galaxy 1 by John R. MacDougall in April 1986. One by one, all commercial channels followed HBO's lead and began scrambling their channels. The Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association (SBCA) was founded on December 2, 1986 as the result of a merger between SPACE and the Direct Broadcast Satellite Association (DBSA).

Videocipher II used analog scrambling on its video signal and Data Encryption Standard¥based encryption on its audio signal. VideoCipher II was defeated, and there was a black market for descrambler devices which were initially sold as "test" devices.

The necessity for better satellite television programming than TVRO arose in the 1980s. Satellite television services, first in Europe, began transmitting Ku band signals in the late 1980s. On 11 December 1988 Luxembourg launched Astra 1A, the first satellite to provide medium power satellite coverage to Western Europe. This was one of the first medium-powered satellites, transmitting signals in Ku band and allowing reception with small(90 cm) dishes for the first time ever. The launch of Astra beat the winner of the UK's state Direct Broadcast Satellite licence, British Satellite Broadcasting, to the market, and accelerated its demise.