In a period of just over 50 years, the satellite industry has evolved from one man’s idea to its current status as a major home entertainment provider and a pivotal information delivery technology. The inception and growth of the satellite industry was made possible by a variety of factors, from major technological developments such as the advent of the space program, advances in digital technology and successive generations of more powerful hardware, to the efforts of a select group of pioneering individuals.
The industry’s first 30 years, from 1945 to 1975, established the roots of satellite broadcasting. From the 1945 vision of Arthur C. Clarke, who first suggested the concepts for a worldwide satellite communications system, through the first Anik and Westar satellite launches, the framework for satellite broadcasting was initiated.
The years 1976 to 1980 saw the beginnings of the satellite TV industry, with the first signals broadcast from HBO (Home Box Office), TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) and CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network, later The Family Channel), the establishment of SPACE, the Society for Private and Commercial Earth Stations (the Satellite Television Industry Association, Inc.) and COMSAT/Satellite Television Corporation’s request to construct and operate a Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) system.
From 1981 to 1985, the “big-dish” C-Band satellite market began to take off. System sales soared as hardware prices fell, and the idea of a practical DBS system was beginning to take shape.
The walls came tumbling down in 1986, as the industry was rocked by negative press coverage, a cable-led anti-dish advertising campaign and the advent of encryption eliminating a great deal of “free” programming. Fifty percent of all satellite retailers closed their businesses. Ultimately, encryption has proven to be the ultimate salvation of the satellite industry as it has made the transition from a hardware- to a software/entertainment-driven business, and has served to legitimize the industry.
In 1986, the SBCA was founded as a result of a merger between SPACE and the Direct Broadcast Satellite Association. Business began to recover, but over the next five years another major problem surfaced—piracy, or the illegal theft of pay television signals.
From 1992 to the present, the satellite picture has become much brighter. The satellite television industry has grown to over 33 million subscribers, making it one of the hottest and fastest growing consumer electronics products of all time. Newer encryption systems have worked to reduce the problem of broadcast security. Small-dish DBS systems have become a reality, creating a huge new market for satellite broadcast services. Favorable legislation has removed many of the former obstacles of dish ownership, and the industry has seen the delivery of interactive TV services, two-way high-speed Internet access via satellite, and the emergence of satellite radio.