cable and satellite


cable and satellite
   Since the early 1980s, the emergence of cable and satellite broadcasting has triggered a process of change in the structure of British broadcasting. As alternative programme distribution technologies to terrestrial broadcasting, cable and satellite have increasingly enabled transnational corporations to challenge the monopoly position traditionally held by Britain’s existing public service television broadcasters.
   The concept of the provision of broadcast services by cable and satellite is not new. Underground cable networks have existed in this country since the 1930s, later adapted for the delivery of television signals to areas with poor atmospheric reception. Satellites have been used for the exchange of live television broadcasts between nations since the USA launched the first commercial communications satellite in 1965. Both systems have undergone adaptive technological improvements since, gradually becoming economically viable alternatives to terrestrial broadcasting. In satellite broadcasting, signals are beamed from ground stations to geostationary communications satellites and reflected by them to receiving stations which relay the signals to receiving dishes or antennae. Cable or CATV (Community Aerial Television) involves the distribution of television signals to subscribers’ homes from shared community satellite stations, as opposed to from the free-space radiation of signals. This involves the use of specialized lowloss coaxial and optical fibre cables which can carry high numbers of channels in multiplexed form.
   It was not until the early 1980s that the British government began to investigate cable and satellite as a means of introducing competition to domestic broadcasting, a move symptomatic of the free enterprise ideology that characterized the simultaneous reform of other service industries, such as gas and electricity. In 1981 the Conservative government formed the Information Technology Advisory Panel (ITAP) to promote the development of cable networks throughout Britain, providing distribution services to be operated by private companies. The franchise for direct broadcasting by satellite (DBS) was granted in 1986. The race to secure programme transmission was finally won in 1990 by Rupert Murdoch’s Sky, after a series of financial setbacks had forced its sole competitor, British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), into a merger (see BSkyB). The advance of cable and satellite in this country has been piecemeal, held up by a complex political debate centred upon issues of quality and choice. Projections of a fully commercialized communications marketplace remain polarized: it is seen on the one hand as facilitating consumer choice, and on the other as inevitably resulting in the destruction of television’s social purpose to educate and inform as well as to entertain.
   MATTHEW GRICE

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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