Perhaps the most popular satellite provider in the United States, DIRECTV® has a long and impressive history under its belt. So, just who is DIRECTV? And how did they get to where they are today?
DIRECTV – The Early Years
Satellite as we know it today actually started back in 1984, when Hughes Electronics gained FCC approval to build and operate a direct broadcast satellite system, or DBS. The satellite DIRECTV-1 was launched on December 17, 1993 and in 1994, Hughes Electronics founded DIRECTV and premiered the first North American offering of DBS service. Often called the “minidish”, this new satellite dish was considerably smaller than what consumers were used to – approximately 18 inches in diameter – and much more manageable than those large, cumbersome TVRO satellite dishes from our past.
Along with its sleek and compact look, the minidish brought consumers a new way of receiving satellite television transmissions. Older TVRO dish systems were analog only and based on open standards equipment. Minidish systems on the other hand, were digital, offering clearer video and audio, and were operated on a closed system that required special reception equipment. TVRO systems were also mobile, a necessary feature to allow them to pick up transmissions from multiple satellite systems, while minidish systems are stationary and received all of their programming from one specific satellite. In August of 1994, DIRECTV launched its second satellite, DIRECTV-2 and boasted one million subscribers at the end of the year.
DIRECTV – Full Steam Ahead
In 1995, DIRECTV authorized Toshiba and Uniden to begin manufacturing DBS systems. Committing to $170 million in advertising, DIRECTV prepared for the expected subscriber growth and launched their third satellite, DIRECTV-3 in July.
In 1997, DIRECTV launched DIRECTV-6 and in 1998, with over 4 million subscribers, DIRECTV Satellite entered into an agreement to purchase its partner, US Satellite Broadcasting for over $1.3 billion in stocks and cash. The merger provided DIRECTV customers with access to USSB’s premier movie broadcasting, increasing channel selection from 185 to 210. In July, DIRECTV invested $250 million in XM satellite radio.
1999 brought even more growth when DIRECTV acquired Primestar, Inc. and their 2.3 million subscribers. As part of the transaction, DIRECTV inherited Primestar’s satellite assets – specifically, 11 transponders and two satellites – giving them high-powered DBS frequencies to provide full coverage of the continental United States. In addition to the Primestar acquisition, DIRECTV launched a new satellite of their own, DIRECTV-1R on October 10th.
By 2001, DIRECTV Satellite had gained over 10 million subscribers and in October, announced it’s intention to merge with it’s prime competitor, EchoStar Communications, the parent company of DISH Network. In November, DIRECTV joined with Music Choice and Wink Communications to announce a new interactive music commerce service that would allow consumers to purchase a CD of the song they were listening to directly through their remote control. This 24/7 feature was launched in September of 2002.
The merger with EchoStar’s DISH Network fell through in 2003 and later that same year, General Motors sold their controlling interest of Hughes Electronics to News Corporation. 2003 also saw the introduction of a new high-definition video recorder from DIRECTV and TiVo as well as a second-generation model through a partnership with Philips. This was also the second year in a row that DIRECTV was named #1 in customer service by JD Powers & Associates.
On November 11, 2003, DIRECTV enjoyed its 12 millionth customer milestone.
DIRECTV – Today
Today, DIRECTV offers service to more than 14 million subscribers in the continental US as well as the one million plus subscribers in Latin America. It remains the top ranking consumer satellite provider and continues to expand its offerings through high-definition and special interest packages such as NFL SUNDAY TICKET and TOTAL CHOICE® Mobile programming.
What does the future hold for DIRECTV?
With four new satellites expected by the end of 2007 and exclusive DVR sneak previews of high-ranking premium broadcasting, DIRECTV continues to push the envelope and expand the definition of satellite television entertainment. What will be next for DIRECTV?
If history offers any clue, it’s sure to be big!