Direct Broadcasting by Satellite 

29 May 2017

From Television & Radio 1988, published by the Independent Broadcasting Authority

From late autumn 1989, the IBA’s terrestrial broadcasting services will be supplemented by a range of new TV programme choices beamed down from a satellite over 22,000 miles above the earth.

Direct Broadcasting by Satellite, or DBS as it is generally known, came an important step nearer when, on 11th December 1986, the IBA announced its decision to offer Britain’s first DBS contract to the British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) group. The consortium, whose contract will operate for 15 years, has plans for four distinct programme services on the available three channels:

Now, a news, current affairs and sports channel, providing extensive live coverage of world events. ITN is expected to contribute a substantial amount of programming.

Galaxy, an entertainment channel in which drama series, serials and plays will predominate, as well as games and quiz shows.

Zig-zag, a daytime family service likely to feature Disney classics – nature documentaries as well as animations – and other entertainment suitable for children.

Screen, an evening feature film service, including recent cinema releases and, with BSB’s encouragement, at least 12 new productions a year.

It is planned that three of the four services will be free to viewers and supported by advertising, and that Screen will be subscription based.

Before the IBA made its decisions on the DBS contract, the opinions of the public were canvassed by means of a survey designed by the IBA’s Research Department and carried out by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB). To overcome the problem of seeking views on something the public were yet to experience, the research was phased to allow for both spontaneous and considered reactions to be measured. After in in-depth interview about their general preferences for television content, together with their initial responses to the DBS concept, the survey respondents were given brochures describing the whole idea of DBS which also spelt out a variety of channel options, broadly covering the elements contained in the applications. The majority of the research sample were then re-interviewed, and their more considered reactions sought. A high level of interest in new television services was recorded by the survey.

Many of the requirements under the Broadcasting Act 1981, which regulate the quality and standards of Independent Television, will also apply to DBS programmes. The IBA will have to approve the programme schedules and standards of taste and decency and due impartiality must be met. The DBS services are not, however, required to have the range of programme matter of the existing public service channels. They are expected to provide attractive additional choice for the viewer.

Sir Trevor Holdsworth, Chairman of BSB (right), with Chairman Lord Thomson, at the historic signing of the DBS contract in July 1987.

BSB will also be responsible for making the financial and other arrangements for the provision of the satellite, subject to IBA specifications. The IBA will provide the up-link to the satellite, and the services will use the MAC transmission developed by IBA officers and endorsed as the standard for Europe.

Existing satellite television services in Europe require quite large and expensive dishes to receive the signal, and are intended to transmit television programmes to cable operators; the cost of the reception equipment is prohibitively expensive for most households. DBS services will need a dish of only approximately 40 cm. Together with the associated electronic equipment, the cost should not be very different from that of a video recorder.

The Authority clearly recognises the substantial financial commitment necessary to such a high-risk venture as DBS. Capturing a sufficiently large audience to pay for the service will not be an easy task, particularly against the UK’s existing television channels which have established over many years a wide range of quality programming. However, despite the high initial investment and payments for transmission facilities, the cost structure of the DBS system will be considerably less than that of ITV with its numerous separate production centres, and the long-term growth pattern of advertising revenue is encouraging.

Remembering the pessimism from certain quarters which greeted the introduction of ITV itself in 1955, the IBA is confident that DBS can make a positive contribution to the Independent Broadcasting system. As Lord Thomson said at the time of the signing of the contract between the Independent Broadcasting Authority and British Satellite Broadcasting: ‘I am delighted that we are, in partnership with BSB, on target for Britain to provide the first national, privately-financed DBS service in the world, with all the opportunities that this will create for business enterprise, programme-making creativity and new jobs in the electronics industry.’

Images from TV Live‘s section on BSB presentation, with thanks

You Say

2 responses to this article

Paul Mason 2 June 2017 at 5:35 pm

Remember the “squarial”, which was devised to pick up BSB? Didnt last long before it merged as BSkyB.

Anthony 28 January 2018 at 3:59 pm

BSB although fewer channels, was in many cases, technically better : nice sharp detailed images with a lack of cross-colour / bleeding and moire patterning on screen, nice vivid colour fidelity without the defects of the PAL system, the possibilities for TRUE High Definition pictures with 1250 lines, crystal clear digital stereo sound that compared well with terrestrial NICAM digital stereo sound on all fronts.

Sky and Astra’s PAL system has noisy colours with moire patterning cross-colour and bleeding between colours, sparklie pictures when it rained or snowed,and hissy FM stereo audio (unless you had a PANDA 1 equipped Astra receiver which gave the best aural reproduction).

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