On 11 July 1962 TV viewers in the UK saw pictures beamed live from the US via the Telstar satellite, with Raymond Baxter and Richard Dimbleby on hand to provide commentary whenever the unscheduled broadcasts began.
Satellites were later used for sending TV to head-ends with onward distribution via cable networks. Enthusiasts could scan the skies to intercept these initially unencrypted programmes at home. But they needed deep pockets, and with dish antenna measuring some 1.5m or more across, a garden.
Direct broadcast by satellite (DBS) to the UK officially began in the late 1970s with the advent of Satellite Television UK (SATV), transmitted from the European Space Agency’s Orbital Test Satellites. SATV was taken over by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 1982 and renamed as Sky Channel, later expanding to a four-channel service with Ireland added in 1987.
Sky used the existing analogue PAL colour TV system, with low-cost receivers made by Amstrad on a handshake deal between Rupert Murdoch and (Sir) Alan Sugar. Rupert Murdoch complained about poor support for Sky from the trade, so created his own installation teams to fit the dishes and get receivers working.
Rather than a UK-licensed bird, Sky used communication satellites from SES-Astra to skirt the requirement to use the expensive MAC system (with which rival BSB was saddled). The original European Astra 1A satellite was parked in geostationary orbit at 19.2 deg E, over 35,000 km above the Equator.
A marketing battle soon developed between the round dishes used for Sky and BSB’s Squarial, with (Sir) Clive Sinclair demonstrating a square aerial for used with Sky. But advances in receiver technology were allowing dish sizes to shrink.
In November 1990 Sky merged with the ailing BSB to form BSkyB, which ran as an analogue PAL service until September 2001. BSkyB’s digital service, Sky Digital, was launched in October 1998. It is now known simply as Sky.