150 Waves for Channel Surfers to Ride

From Associated Press

America’s first satellite broadcasting system is expected to debut this year, beaming 150 TV channels of shows, movies and sporting events to homes across the country that are equipped with pizza-sized satellite dishes.

The high-powered, direct-to-home satellite broadcasting will originate in the $100 million Castle Rock Broadcast Center in Castle Rock, Colo., 30 miles south of Denver.

To watch these satellite network broadcasts, viewers will first have to buy reception gear called the Digital Satellite System; RCA-brand DSS equipment will start at $699.

With a properly aimed 18-inch diameter satellite dish, viewers will be able to receive programming from a pair of communications satellites orbiting close to one another. One went into orbit last December with the other scheduled to launch this summer.


DirecTv, a unit of General Motors’ subsidiary, GM Hughes Electronics, will use more than 80% of the satellites’ capacity. Another programming provider, United States Satellite Broadcasting in St. Paul, Minn., will use the rest to offer a different lineup of channels to DSS owners.

About one-third of the 150 channels that DirecTv plans to offer will be devoted to pay-per-view movies.

But though 50 channels might be set aside for pay-per-view, this does not mean that subscribers will have a choice of 50 different movies at any given time. An especially popular movie might play on eight different channels, with starting times staggered.

For each tape that goes out on the air, Castle Rock will be rolling a backup tape in unison. If something goes wrong with the main copy, a technician or machine can switch over to the backup feed. Airing times would be dictated by a schedule generated in DirecTv’s corporate headquarters in El Segundo.


DirecTv expects that about 40 channels in its lineup will be familiar cable services such as CNN, USA, the Nashville Network, TNT and the Discovery Channel, which are themselves distributed nationally via different satellites.

DirecTv also plans to offer about 40 channels of sporting events.

“Our emphasis in Year One--in 1994--is quality, quality, quality,” DirecTv president Eddy Hartenstein said. “We have one chance to get it right, and that’s the first chance.”