Direct broadcast satellite

Direct broadcast satellite

Direct broadcast satellite (DBS) is a term used to refer to satellite television broadcasts intended for home reception, also referred to more broadly as direct-to-home signals. The expression "direct-to-home" or DTH was, initially, meant to distinguish the transmissions directly intended for home viewers from cable television distribution services that sometimes carried on the same satellite. The term predates DBS satellites and is often used in reference to services carried by lower power satellites which required larger dishes (1.7m diameter or greater) for reception. In Europe, the expression was common prior to the launch of ASTRA-1 in 1988 as there were two markets: the DTH market which required the larger dishes and the DBS (ASTRA) market which required smaller (0.9m dishes). As higher powered satellites like ASTRA came into operation, the initialism DBS gradually supplanted it.

Terminology confusion

As a technical matter, DBS (also known by the International Telecommunications Union as Broadcasting Satellite Service, or BSS) refers only to services transmitted by satellite in specific frequency bands: 11.7-12.2 GHz in ITU Region 3 (Asia, Australia), 10.7 - 12.75 GHz in ITU Region 1 (Europe, Russia, Africa), and 12.2-12.7 GHz ITU Region 2 (North and South America). In 1977, the ITU adopted an international BSS Plan under which each country was allocated specific frequencies at specific orbital locations for domestic service. Over the years, this plan has been modified to, for example, accommodate new countries, increase coverage areas, and reflect digital (rather than analog) technology. At present, only a relative handful of countries have actually brought into use any of their BSS Plan allocations.

By contrast, DTH can apply to similar services transmitted over a wider range of frequencies (including standard Ku-band and Ka-band) transmitted from satellites that are not part of any internationally planned band. Nonetheless, the term DBS is often used interchangeably with DTH to cover both analog and digital video and audio services (including video-on-demand and interactive features) received by relatively small dishes (less than 1 meter). A "DBS service" usually refers to either a commercial service, or a group of free channels available from one orbital position targeting one country. In certain regions of the world, especially in North America, DBS is used to refer to providers of subscription satellite packages, and has become applied to the entire equipment chain involved.

Commercial DBS services

The first commercial DBS service, Sky Television plc (now BSkyB after its merger with British Satellite Broadcasting's five-channel network), was launched in 1989. Sky TV started as a four-channel free-to-air analogue service on the Astra 1A satellite, serving the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. By 1991, Sky had changed to a conditional access pay model, and launched a digital service, Sky Digital, in 1998, with analogue transmission ceasing in 2001. Since the DBS nomenclature is rarely used in the UK or Ireland, the popularity of Sky's service has caused the terms "minidish" and "digibox" to be applied to products other than Sky's hardware. BSkyB is controlled by News Corporation.

PrimeStar began transmitting an analog service to North America in 1991, and was joined by DirecTV (then owned by a division of General Motors, GM Hughes Electronics), in 1994. At the time, DirecTV's introduction was the most successful consumer electronics debut in American history. Although PrimeStar transitioned to a digital system in 1994, it was ultimately unable to compete with DirecTV, which required a smaller satellite dish and could deliver more programming. DirecTV purchased PrimeStar in 1999 and moved all PrimeStar subscribers to DirecTV equipment. In a series of transactions consummated in 2003, Hughes Electronics was spun out of GM and the News Corporation purchased a controlling interest in the new company, which was renamed The DIRECTV Group. In 2008, Liberty Media Corporation purchased News Corporation's controlling interest in DIRECTV.

In 1996, EchoStar's Dish Network went online in the United States and, as DirecTV's primary competitor, achieved similar success. AlphaStar also started but soon went under. Astro was also started, using a direct broadcast satellite system.

Dominion Video Satellite Inc.'s Sky Angel also went online in the United States in 1996 with its DBS service geared toward the faith and family market. It has since grown from six to 36 TV and radio channels of family entertainment, Christian-inspirational programming, and 24-hour news. Dominion, under its former corporate name Video Satellite Systems Inc., was actually the second from among the first nine companies to apply to the FCC for a high-power DBS license in 1981, and it is the sole surviving DBS pioneer from that first round of forward-thinking applicants. Sky Angel, although a separate and independent DBS service, uses the same satellites, transmission facilities, & receiving equipment used for Dish Network through an agreement with Echostar. Because of this, Sky Angel subscribers also have the option of subscribing to Dish Network's channels as well.

In 2003, EchoStar attempted to purchase DirecTV, but the FCC and U.S. Department of Justice denied the purchase based on anti-competitive concerns.

Free DBS services

Germany is likely the leader in free-to-air DBS, with approximately 40 analogue and 100 digital channels broadcast from the SES Astra 1 position at 19.2E. These are not marketed as a DBS service, but are received in approximately 12 million homes, as well as in any home using the German commercial DBS system, "Premiere".

The United Kingdom has approximately 90 free-to-air digital channels, for which a promotional and marketing plan is being devised by the BBC and ITV, to be sold as "Freesat". It is intended to provide a multi-channel service for areas which cannot receive Freeview, and eventually replace their network of UHF repeaters in these areas

India's national broadcaster, Doordarshan, promotes a free-to-air DBS package as "DD Direct Plus", which is provided as in-fill for the country's terrestrial transmission network.

While originally launched as backhaul for their digital terrestrial television service, a large number of French channels are free-to-air on 5W, and have recently been announced as being official in-fill for the DTT network.

In North America (USA, Canada and Mexico) there are over 80 FTA digital channels available on Intelsat Americas 5. (The majority of them are ethnic or religious.) Other popular FTA satellites include AMC-4, AMC-6, Galaxy 10R, and SatMex 5. A company called GloryStar promotes FTA religious broadcasters on IA-5 and AMC-4.

ee also

* List of Direct broadcast satellite providers
* Conditional access

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