Pay television

Pay television

Pay television, premium television, or premium channels refers to subscription-based television services, usually provided by both analog and digital cable and satellite, but also increasingly via digital terrestrial and internet television. Some parts of the world, notably in France and the US, have also offered encrypted analog terrestrial signals, available for subscription.



Most premium channels air movies, as well as specials, sporting events and original television series. Unlike those on basic cable, movies are broadcast on most premium channels unedited and uninterrupted by television commercials, as such the films are aired as they were originally released in theaters or on home video; films and original series on premium channels may contain a large amount of profanity, nudity/sexual situations, violence, and other adult content since they are not subject to approval by sponsors.

Some premium channels also broadcast original specials, which most commonly include concert events, documentaries and stand-up comedy acts. Sports television programming is also featured on some premium services, in particular HBO and Showtime in the United States are both notable for their sports coverage of boxing events; however, specialty pay sports channels do exist such as Setanta Sports and Fox Soccer Plus, typically for a significantly higher price than traditional premium services. In addition, channels such as Playboy TV and Hustler TV are dedicated to pornographic films, varying from softcore content to on such channels like The Erotic Network, slightly more hardcore content.

Most premium channels air ratings bumpers before each program, containing the film/episode rating (this typically does not apply to live sporting events), since the mid-1980s, additional features included in the television program such as closed captioning and whether the program is broadcast in stereo and since the 1990s in the United States, content descriptors that describe what is included in the program (such as "MV" for mild violence, "SSC" for strong sexual content, etc.) are also mentioned within these bumpers. While some sports-based pay services do feature commercial advertising (particularly if they simulcast sporting events broadcast by advertiser-supported television networks), most pay services are devoid of traditional commercial advertising, instead breaks inserted between programs are typically filled with promotions for that network's programming and special behind-the-scenes features. Many pay television services offer multiplex services that broadcast on a different schedule from the main channel, many of these multiplex channels (depending on the format) feature genre-based program content (ex.; one channel may feature family-oriented programming, another may feature action films).


Pay television channels come in different price ranges. Many channels carrying advertising combine this income with a lower subscription fee. These are called "mini-pay" channels and are often sold as a part of a package with numerous similarly priced channels. Sometimes, the subscriptions are also sold "a la carte,", allowing consumers to select which channels they subscribe to. Usually however the regular pricing for premium channels ranges from just under $10 to near $15 per month per suite, with lower prices available via bundling options with cable or satellite providers, or special limited offers which are available during free preview periods or before the launch of a network's prestige series. However some other channels, such as sports and adult networks may ask for monthly pricing that may go as high as near $50 a month.

There are also premium television services which have a significantly higher price than the mini-pay channels, but they compensate for their higher price by carrying little or no advertising and also providing a higher quality output. As advertising sales are sensitive to the business cycle, some broadcasters try to balance them with more stable income from subscriptions.


Some providers offer channels owned by the same company in a single package. For example, American satellite provider DirecTV offers the Encore channels along with the Starz! channels in its "Starz Super Pack";[1] and The Movie Channel, Flix and The Sundance Channel along with Showtime in its "Showtime Unlimited" package.[2] HBO in turn almost always packages Cinemax and its sister networks with HBO.

Unlike other cable networks, premium services are almost always subscribed to a la carte cable television, meaning that one can, for example, subscribe to HBO without subscribing to Showtime (In Canada, there are slight modifications, as most providers include U.S. superstations with their main premium package by default). However, subscribing to an "individual" service automatically includes access to all of that service's available multiplex channels and, in some cases, access to content via video-on-demand. Also in Canada, HBO Canada is included in two separate packages: The Movie Network package, as well as the Movie Central package (as the two services are split to serve Western Canada and Eastern Canada, respectively).


Pay television has become popular with cable and satellite television. Most pay TV services now offer multiplex packages, in which the service offers several channels of programming rather than just one. Pay television services often, at least two to three times per year, provide subscribers free previews of their services, in order to court potential subscribers by allowing this wider audience to sample the service; these are typically scheduled to showcase major special event programming, such as the pay cable premiere of a blockbuster feature film or the premiere (either a series or season premiere) of a widely anticipated or critically acclaimed original series.

There have also been some subscription services on analogue terrestrial television; but free-to-air television has always dominated, and scrambled services have been. Canal+ has operated a national pay channel in the French terrestrial network since 1984 and will do so until the closedown of analogue television. Spanish Canal+ did also broadcast nationally between 1990-2005. Some US stations launched services such SuperTV, Wometco, Prism, Preview, SelecTV and ON-TV in the late '70s, but those services disappeared as they couldn't handle the competition from cable television.

In some countries, the launch of digital terrestrial television has meant that pay television has become increasingly popular in countries with regular antennas.

The major distributors of pay television in Australia are Foxtel, Optus Television, Austar, SelecTV and TransACT, all of which provide cable services in some metropolitan areas, and satellite for all areas of the nation where cable is not available.



Pay-per-view (PPV) services are similar to subscription-based pay TV services in that customers must pay to have the broadcast decrypted for viewing, but usually only entail a one-time payment for a single or time-limited viewing. Programs offered via pay-per-view are most often movies or sporting events, but may also include other events, such as concerts.


"Free" variants are free-to-air (FTA) and free-to-view (FTV); however FTV services are normally encrypted and decryption cards either come as part of an initial subscription to a pay TV bouquet[clarification needed] or can be purchased for a one-time cost.

Selective access of free content

  • FTA and FTV systems may still have selective access. ABC Asia-Pacific is one example. This channel's content is free-to-air but NRL games are encrypted.

Partial list of premium services




North America


South America


See also

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