DirecTV is a digital satellite entertainment service provider.

There is a war between the satellite dish and the digital cable.
Here are some disadvantages that dishes have (gathered from Time Warner/DirecTV websites):

  1. A dish is yours to keep, fix, replace and upgrade ($$$)
  2. You need more than 1 receiver to watch more than 1 thing at a time ($$$)
  3. Bad weather can cause you to lose your satellite reception. Rain or high winds can block a DBS signal or push a dish out of alignment (it's called rain fade) (!!!)
  4. Pay extra for local channels (??...$$$)
  5. Not available outside USA, legally prohibited (f!@*&^)
Yeah a lot of that is claimed in Charter digital cable commercials (I myself use charter). On the flip side there are also claims that DirecTV makes:
  1. There's more choice for the basic price
  2. DirecTV can provide satellite internet access ($$$)
  3. Offers Ultimate TV, TiVo, AOLTV
  4. You can get it even if you are miles from a cable company

Information gathered from http://www.directv.com/
I should have left this as a nodeshell, so you could all wonder what directv is =/

DirecTV is one of the two direct broadcast satellite companies beaming television programming to the United States (Dish Network is the other). The history of DirecTV is a history of television technology, a history of American Federal law, but mostly, it's a history of Rupert Murdoch.

The Birth of Direct Broadcast Satellite

In the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1970s, cable television began to change from being "community antenna television," merely a method of getting better reception on existing local broadcast channels, to being a true value-added entertainment option, with channels such as HBO, USA Network, and WTBS being uplinked to a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit and received by local cable companies on their own satellite dishes. Electronics hobbyists were, in fact, setting up their own satellite dishes in their backyards in order to try to get everything that was out there; dishes were also popular in parts of the country that were not served by cable TV, mainly rural areas.

These satellite dishes were big and expensive, and part of the problem was that they had to be motorized: since the various channels were being broadcast from satellites that were in different spots above the Equator, tuning to a different channel required actually moving the dish to point at a different satellite.

The solution for some of these problems seemed to be direct broadcast satellite, abbreviated DBS. DBS would act like a cable company in space, with all of the available channels broadcasting from one satellite; therefore, the dish could be smaller and not need to move. Also, not only would DBS provide rural areas with what was, in effect, cable TV service, but it would serve as competition for local franchised cable TV companies throughout the country.

In 1980, a company called Satellite Television Corporation made the first proposal to the Federal Communications Commission for a DBS service. Eight different proposals for DBS were eventually approved, and companies ranging from Western Union to Hubbard Broadcasting received FCC licenses to provide service. One of the approved proposals was for a service called Skyband, which was proposed by an Australian company called News Corp., then best known in the United States for publishing the New York Post newspaper. News Corp.'s owner Rupert Murdoch was simultaneously setting up a DBS service called Sky TV in the United Kingdom; Sky TV went on the air and became a success, but Skyband was stillborn. The main problem was lack of capital (since the service would have to be built from the ground up), but Murdoch had also underestimated the differences between the status of broadcast and cable television in the U.S. and in the U.K. and Europe. Sky TV was an easier sell to the British, with only four over-the-air channels available, than Skyband would have been in the U.S., where early 1980s cable systems were delivering as many as 36 channels into the homes of many Americans.

None of the other proposed DBS services got off the ground, either, and most of the companies returned their licenses to the FCC.

The Real Birth of DBS and DirecTV

By 1990, News Corp. had become well-known to Americans as the owner of the 20th Century Fox movie studio, and more importantly for this writeup, the owner of the Fox television network. So it was that Rupert Murdoch formed Sky Cable, a new DBS service joint venture with another programming provider (NBC), a cable television multiple system operator (Cablevision), and an electronics firm with satellite interests (Hughes Electronics). The partnership soon fell apart, though, mainly due to lack of capital, and Sky Cable's FCC licenses ended up in the hands of Hughes.

Finally, in July 1991, a DBS service actually went on the air: Primestar, owned by a consortium of cable operators, used analog transmission from leased transponders on a General Electric-owned satellite. Primestar subscribers used a 24-to-30-inch dish, usually mounted on the ground, to receive programming.

A year later, the Federal government passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992, which assured the future viability of DBS by requiring network owners to provide their programming equally to both cable systems and DBS services.

Hughes finally managed to get around the "lack of capital" problem by raising money from its corporate parent (General Motors), as well as from the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (in exchange for giving the companies in the NRTC the exclusive rights to sell Hughes' DBS service in rural areas without cable TV service). The "Sky Cable" name was trademarked by News Corp., so Hughes came up with a new name: DirecTV.

Meanwhile, Hubbard Broadcasting was still holding its DBS licenses from the early 1980s, under the corporate name United States Satellite Broadcasting, a.k.a. USSB. USSB and DirecTV agreed to share transponder space on the same satellite, as well as use the same transmitting and receiving technology, allowing viewers to use the same satellite dish and receiver to subscribe to either or both service. The two services jointly marketed themselves as "DSS," for "Digital Satellite Service," indicating that they were using digital transmission using MPEG-2 compression to deliver their programming. The digital transmission and the higher power of the signals coming from the satellite meant that subscribers could use a smaller dish than Primestar subscribers; the 18-inch-diameter DSS dish could be mounted to a structure's roof or chimney.

In December 1993, Hughes launched a brand-new satellite, called DBS-1, to a position at 101 degrees longitude. 22 of the transponders were used by DirecTV, with the rest used by USSB. Once satellite testing was completed, DirecTV and USSB began operations in early 1994, beginning sales of DSS receivers at Cowboy Maloney's Electric City in Jackson, Mississippi, my new favorite store name ever. Each service had signed exclusive deals with the various networks; DirecTV provided most of the "basic cable" channels and pay-per-view movies, plus the Encore and Starz! premium movie channels, while USSB had the major premium movie channels, such as HBO and Showtime, and a handful of other popular channels such as Nickelodeon and Lifetime. In practice, most DSS subscribers were paying for a mix of DirecTV and USSB channels and not really noticing which was which until it was time to pay the programming bill at the end of the month.

In the first few years, DSS had several disadvantages over cable television. Most off-putting for the average television viewer was that, while cable systems usually only required a converter box for premium movie channels and not only gave the boxes away for free but would also install them for free, DSS required the purchase of a dish and a receiver for every TV on which it would be viewed, plus charged for installation. In 1994 and 1995, the cost for having a full DSS system installed could approach $1,000.

Also, only cable television could offer local broadcast channels. DirecTV offered a package of two affiliates each of ABC, CBS, and NBC (one from the Eastern and one from the Pacific time zone), plus Fox and PBS national feeds; however, due to both FCC regulations and United States copyright law, these channels could only be subscribed to by DSS viewers with no local affiliate in their area. DSS subscribers in most parts of the country had to either use rabbit ears to get their local affiliates, or remain subscribed to cableā€¦or lie to DirecTV about their service address.

Despite the drawbacks, the two DSS services boasted 320,000 subscribers by the end of 1994. In 1995, DirecTV gained a major advantage over cable by signing an agreement with the National Football League to be the only DBS or cable service offering the NFL Sunday Ticket package of out-of-town Sunday afternoon football games. Competition then began to drive equipment prices down, with Primestar converting to digital transmission and with a competing DBS service, EchoStar Communications' Dish Network, beginning service at the beginning of 1996.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. again tried to get into the American DBS market in 1996, announcing a joint venture with MCI called American Sky Broadcasting (ASkyB). This service never actually went live. Murdoch then tried to take over EchoStar, but was rebuffed by its founder Charlie Ergen, and then tried to take over Primestar, but was rebuffed by its owners, notably Time Warner.

DirecTV Matures, and Murdoch Keeps Coming Back

In 1998, DirecTV acquired USSB, thus ending the "DSS" marketing concept and unifying all the channels under the DirecTV name. A year later, DirecTV managed to acquire Primestar, doing what Rupert Murdoch couldn't, and began a 2-year process of shutting down the Primestar service, swapping out Primestar subscriber equipment for DirecTV equipment (most Primestar subscribers had been leasing the equipment from the company).

In 1999, the Federal government passed the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, which among other things, allowed DBS services to begin offering local broadcast channels via satellite (called "local into local"), with the only caveat being that by January 1, 2002, full "must-carry" provisions would come into effect in each market in which a DBS service chose to carry local channels. DirecTV immediately began providing major network affiliates in a number of larger markets, eventually launching a new satellite solely devoted to local channels in order to be able to comply with the must-carry rules. By early 2004, DirecTV provided all local channels in 64 metropolitan areas, with plans to add another 59 areas at some point during the year.

In 2001, DirecTV introduced receivers with built-in digital video recorder functions, signing deals with both TiVo and with Microsoft's Ultimate TV. Both had the capability of recording two shows simultaneously, capturing two streams of DirecTV's MPEG-2 video directly to their hard drives. DirecTV could now claim many advantages over the local cable companies in the U.S., including lower rates (in most cases), fewer signal outages, and better picture quality, in addition to the DVR's, something cable companies didn't start rolling out until 2003.

Enter Rupert Murdoch again. General Motors made no secret of the fact that they wanted to get rid of their controlling stake in Hughes, and whoever controlled Hughes would control DirecTV. Murdoch made no secret of the fact that he still wanted to get into the DBS business in the U.S. He first made overtures toward Hughes in 2001, but was rebuked when EchoStar offered to buy Hughes at three times the price Murdoch was offering. That potential deal ran afoul of Federal regulators, but there was no problem with Murdoch's deal. And so finally, in 2003, Murdoch had his American DBS service; he acquired the controlling interest in Hughes and DirecTV in a deal worth about $6.6 billion.

(The first obvious sign of Murdoch's ownership of DirecTV was when the TV Guide Channel was added to the lineup in early 2004. TV Guide is owned by a company called Gemstar-TV Guide in which News Corp. has a significant minority stake, although not controlling ownership.)

Actual Information Not Involving Rupert Murdoch

DirecTV currently broadcasts signals from six satellites in geosynchronous orbit; three at 101 degrees longitude, one at 110 degrees, and one at 119 degrees, all receiving signals from DirecTV uplink facilities located around the United States and sending signals back down at 200 to 240 watts of power. (The main DirecTV uplink facility is in Castle Rock, Colorado, with a backup facility in El Segundo, California; each metropolitan area in which DirecTV provides local broadcast channels also has its own uplink facility for those channels.)

Two of the satellites, one at 101 degrees and one at 119 degrees, are solely devoted to over-the-air channels, and broadcast them on spot beams aimed in the general direction of the metropolitan area they're serving. (Therefore, it is physically impossible for someone in Tampa, Florida to get channels intended for, say, Boston, Massachusetts.) Channels on the 101 satellite tend to serve larger metropolitan areas than the ones carried on the 119 satellite.

The other satellites in the 101 position carry DirecTV's "core channels," i.e., all of the "cable" channels that most DirecTV subscribers would want. Therefore, many DirecTV subscribers need only an 18-inch-diameter satellite dish pointed at the 101-degree position. However, the 110 and 119-degree satellites carry high-definition channels and Spanish channels, in addition to the aforementioned local channels in smaller markets; receiving programming from those satellites requires a special oval-shaped dish measuring about 18 by 24 inches.

In the spring of 2004, DirecTV is expected to launch a new local-channel-only satellite into the 119-degree position, and move an existing satellite to 72.5 degrees (an orbital slot being leased from a Canadian company). The equipment required to receive local channels being carried at 72.5 is to be determined.

DirecTV now has about 12 million subscribers nationwide.


Special Bonus Feature, Which You Probably Should Ignore If You're Not a Big Geek: This is a comparison between the DSS (DirecTV/USSB) channel lineup as of March 1996 and the DirecTV channel lineup as of yesterday morning. A semicolon indicates a channel that's changed its name. I wish I could have found an earlier channel listing (e.g., the original 1994 lineup), but no such luck. Some channels are not listed, including the one where they show you how to hook up your receiver, which you can't watch if your receiver isn't hooked up.

1996........................................2004
DirecTV
      Local Channels (newer receivers)......2-69
      Local Channels (older receivers)....440-449, 457-484,
                                          658-675, 873-992
      Fox Widescreen.......................71-72
      ESPN HD..............................73
      Discovery HD Theater.................76
      HDNet Movies.........................78
      HDNet................................79
      CBS-HD East (WCBS-DT, New York)......80
      CBS-HD West (KCBS-DT, Los Angeles)...81
100-199...Pay-Per-View Movies/Events......100-199
202...CNN.................................202
203...Court TV............................203
204...CNN Headline News...................204
206...ESPN................................206
207...ESPN Alternate Feed.................210
      ESPNews.............................207
208...ESPN 2..............................209
209...ESPN 2 Alternate Feed...............211
212...TNT.................................245
213...Home Shopping Network...............240
214...Home & Garden Television............229
      DIY.................................230
      Fine Living.........................232
215...TV Food Network.....................231
216...MuchMusic USA; Fuse.................339
217...Black Entertainment Television......329
219...American Movie Classics; AMC........254
220...Turner Classic Movies...............256
221...A&E Network.........................265
222...The History Channel.................269
      History International...............271
223...The Disney Channel East.............290
224...The Disney Channel West.............291
225...The Discovery Channel...............278
      Discovery Health....................279
      Discovery Science...................284
      Discovery Times.....................285
      Discovery Home & Leisure............286
      Discovery Wings.....................287
      Discovery Kids......................294
226...The Learning Channel................280
227...Cartoon Network.....................296
      Boomerang...........................297
229...USA Network.........................242
230...Trio................................315
232...Family Channel; ABC Family..........311
233...TBS.................................247
235...The Nashville Network; Spike TV.....325
236...Country Music Television............327
240...Sci-Fi Channel......................244
242...C-SPAN..............................350
243...C-SPAN 2............................351
246...CNBC................................355
      CNBC World..........................357
247...America's Talking; MSNBC............356
248...The Weather Channel.................362
250...Newsworld International.............366
252...CNN International/CNNfn.............358
254...The Travel Channel..................277
258...Bravo...............................273
266...Independent Film Channel............550
269...Starz! West.........................521
270...Starz! East.........................520
271...Encore East.........................526
272...Encore Love Stories.................528
273...Encore Westerns.....................529
274...Encore Mystery......................530
275...Encore Action.......................532
276...Encore True Stories.................531
277...Encore WAM!.........................533
278...Encore West.........................527
282...CBS East (WRAL, Raleigh)
      CBS East (WCBS, New York)...........380
283...CBS West (KPIX, San Francisco)
      CBS East (KCBS, Los Angeles)........381
284...NBC East (WNBC, New York)...........382
285...NBC West (KNBC, Los Angeles)........383
286...PBS (KRMA, Denver)
      PBS National Feed...................384
      PBS Kids............................295
      PBS You.............................377
287...ABC East (WJLA, Washington, D.C.)
      ABC East (WABC, New York)...........386
288...ABC West (KOMO, Seattle)
      ABC West (KABC, Los Angeles)........387
289...FoxNet
      Fox East (WNYW, New York)...........388
      Fox West (KTTV, Los Angeles)........389
      PAX National Feed...................255
      NBA TV..............................601
      TVG Network.........................602
303...NewSport
304...Golf Channel........................605
305...Classic Sports; ESPN Classic........208
      The Outdoor Channel.................606
306...Speedvision; Speed Channel..........607
307...Outdoor Life........................608
      CBS NCAA Basketball Alternate Feeds.609, 615-618
      College Sports Television...........610
      Fuel................................612
      Fox Sports World....................613
309...SportsChannel New England;
      Fox Sports Net New England..........620
310...Madison Square Garden...............621
      YES Network.........................622
311...New England Sports Network..........623
312...SportsChannel New York;
      Fox Sports Net New York.............624
313...Empire Sports Network...............626
314...SportsChannel Philadelphia
315...KBL Sports Pittsburgh;
      Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh...........628
316...Home Team Sports;
      Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic......629
317...SportSouth;
      Fox Sports Net South................630
      Turner South........................631
318...Sunshine Network....................632
319...SportsChannel Florida;
      Fox Sports Net Florida..............634
320...Pro-Am Sports System;
      Fox Sports Net Detroit..............636
321...SportsChannel Ohio;
      Fox Sports Net Ohio.................637
322...SportsChannel Cincinnati;
      Fox Sports Net Cincinnati...........638
323...SportsChannel Chicago;
      Fox Sports Net Chicago..............639
324...Midwest Sports Channel;
      Fox Sports Net North................641
325...Prime Sports Southwest;
      Fox Sports Net Southwest............643
326...Prime Sports;
      Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain.......645
327...Fox Sports Net Midwest..............647
      Fox Sports Net Arizona..............649
      Fox Sports Net Northwest............651
331...Prime Sports West;
      Fox Sports Net West.................652
      Fox Sports Net West 2...............653
335...SportsChannel Pacific;
      Fox Sports Net Bay Area.............654
      Fox Sports Net Alternate Feeds......625, 633, 635,
                                          640, 642, 644,
                                          646, 648, 655
336-350...NFL Sunday Ticket...............700-719
      Premier League Soccer...............720
351-369...NBA League Pass.................721-733
      WNBA Season Pass....................721-733
      NCAA Mega March Madness.............735-739
370-379...NHL Center Ice..................740-752
      MLB Extra Innings...................754-768
      ESPN GamePlan.......................770-779
390-399...ESPN Full Court.................780-793
      MLS/ESPN Shootout...................794-799
401...Spice...............................594
402...Playboy TV..........................595
      Spice Platinum......................596
      The Hot Network.....................597
      The Hot Zone........................598
500-531...Music Choice....................802-865
      NFL Network.........................212
      TV Guide Channel....................224
      Xtreme Shopping Network.............227
      Gem Shopping Network................228
      Shop at Home Network................234
      E! Entertainment Television.........236
      Ultimate Shopping Network...........239
      America's Store.....................243
      FX..................................248
      Oxygen..............................251
      Fox Movie Channel...................258
      Women's Entertainment...............260
      SoapNet.............................262
      BBC America.........................264
      National Geographic Channel.........276
      Animal Planet.......................282
      WGN.................................307
      Game Show Network...................309
      QVC.................................317
      World Harvest TV....................321
      Direct Shopping Network.............340
      Bloomberg Television................353
      TechTV..............................354
      Fox News Channel....................360
      America's Collectibles Network......367
      FitTV...............................368
      DayStar.............................369
      ShopNBC.............................370
      The Church Channel..................371
      TBN.................................372
      The Word Network....................373
      BYU TV..............................374
      WorldLink TV........................375
      NASA TV.............................376
      RFD TV..............................379
      Spanish-Language Pay-Per-View.......401
      Univision East......................402
      Univision West......................403
      Galavision..........................404
      Telemundo East......................405
      Telemundo West......................406
      TVE International America...........407
      TV Chile............................408
      Utilisima...........................409
      Mun2................................410
      Telefe Internacional................411
      Casa Club TV........................412
      Discovery Espanol...................413
      MTV Latino..........................416
      PUMA TV.............................417
      Telemundo Internacional.............418
      CNN en Espanol......................419
      Canal Sur...........................420
      EWTN................................422
      Cine Latino.........................423
      Fox Sports World Espanol............425
      ESPN Deportes.......................426
      Soccer Pay-Per-View en Espanol......430-435
      Maria+Vision........................438
      I-Life TV...........................439
      Jade East...........................450
      Jade West...........................451
      Jadeworld Super Channel.............452
      Jadeworld Movie Channel.............453
      CCTV-4..............................454
      CCTV-9..............................455
      Phoenix Chinese North America.......456

USSB
963...All News Channel
965...VH1.................................335
      VH1 Classic.........................337
967...Lifetime............................252
      Lifetime Movie Network..............253
968...Nickelodeon East....................299
      Nickelodeon West....................300
      Noggin/The N........................298
      TV Land.............................301
      Nicktoons...........................302
970...Flix................................547
973...Cinemax East........................512
974...Cinemax 2; MoreMax..................513
975...Cinemax West........................514
977...The Movie Channel East..............544
978...The Movie Channel West..............545
980...HBO East............................501
981...HBO 2 East..........................502
982...HBO 3; HBO Signature................503
983...HBO West............................504
984...HBO 2 West..........................505
      HBO Family East.....................507
      HBO Family West.....................508
      HBO HDTV............................509
      HBO Latino..........................511
985...Showtime East.......................537
986...Showtime 2; Showtime Too............538
987...Showtime West.......................540
      Showtime Showcase...................539
      Showtime Extreme....................542
      Showtime HDTV.......................543
989...MTV.................................331
      MTV2................................333
990...Comedy Central......................249
995...Sundance Channel....................549

References:
  • Technical data and other vital information from directv.com and dbsforums.com
  • History from www.museum.tv and skyreport.com
  • The dish that's sitting on top of a pole that's stuck in a bucket full of concrete on my apartment balcony...hard to believe it works, but it does

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