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BSB – On a loser from before the start


In 1982 the UK government handed the BBC a licence to start a direct broadcast satellite service. But the licence obliged the BBC to buy British satellites and use a new European TV system called MAC, instead of PAL, the existing standard for terrestrial television.

After estimating the cost, and hearing what its own engineers were warning, the BBC opted out. In 1986 the poisoned chalice went to BSB, a consortium that initially included Amstrad and Virgin. BSB was told it could buy cheaper, foreign satellites but it still had to use MAC. The licence was for three TV channels.

A high flying management team was formed.
Anthony Simmonds-Gooding headed BSB Anthony Simmonds-Gooding headed BSB
Anthony Simonds-Gooding was in  charge
BSB's John Gau BSB's Joh Gau
John Gau and Peter Bell were also on board the BSB ship
So were Graham Grist


BSB's Graham Grist

and Peter Bell


BSB's Peter Bell



BSB management team BSB management team

BSB promised to launch in 1989, with full receiving systems at under £200; an ITN news report optimistically quoted £100 as the cost.

The station finally went on air in April 1990. Receivers cost £400 each, plus around £100 for aerial installation. Virgin had already dropped out; Amstrad was making much cheaper PAL receivers for the rival Sky service. Sky had launched in February 1989 from Luxembourg's Astra satellites, with permission for 48 channels. BSB's limit had been raised – but only to five.

Two techno-turkeys helped make BSB a commercial disaster; government compulsion to use MAC and BSB’s commercial decision to build its marketing campaign on the Squarial, a small flat aerial which had been promised by BSB to compete with Sky's bigger round dish. In reality few people cared about picture quality or the size of the dish outside. They were more interested in the programmes on screen and the cost. Sky soon made its dishes smaller, anyway.  

Tatung's BSB system cost £400

Tatung's BSB system cost 400

This house has a dish and squarial

This house has a dish and squarial
BSB like to compare its squarial with a Sky dish Ferguson's BSB system also cost 400, without installation of the 'revolutionary' squaria
The squarial was heavily promoted, sometimes by comparing to a Sky dish
BSB managers compare a dish with a squarial

BSB's squarial on show

Project Director Andy Coleman
BSB receiver Feguson's BSB package - but of course the squarial had to be mounted high, outside, and that cost extra

 By late 1990 Sky had sold a million dishes, most at cut price, and was losing £2m a week. BSB had sold less than 100,000 and was losing four times as much. BSB’s two US-made satellites had cost $304 m.

In November, BSB collapsed into a merger with Sky and the rest is history. Sky went on to become a major force in broadcasting. In 2015 BSB's grand HQ in Battersea, Marcopolo House, was demolished.


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