See what happens when non-technical marketing folk bet the company on someone else’s new technology…
In August 1988, two months after Sky and Astra announced that they would be using the old PAL TV system instead of Europe’s gleaming new MAC, BSB invited the press to a demonstration that promised to show how much better MAC pictures could be than PAL.
But when the event got under way the technical niceties of MAC picture quality were shoved aside. Instead BSB’s executives unveiled a new kind of aerial which they called a ‘Squarial’ – a small flat square plate that was claimed to do the same job as the larger dish aerials then needed for satellite reception.
The Squarial was a surprise to everyone, including the four companies which had signed to manufacture the BSB receivers which would have to work with the new aerial. The Squarial deal – with British company Fortel – had been struck only hours earlier. Press and TV crews were in such a hurry to report the news that they forgot to ask if it actually worked; which it didn’t.
All that then existed was a wood and plastics dummy. But believing that someone would easily be able to make the 25cm squarial work as well as a much larger dish, BSB built a whole advertising campaign on the Squarial.
There was actually nothing new in the idea of a flat plate aerial, made from a honeycomb of tiny cell aerials, all connected together by wire tracks. The military already used them. The BBC had researched the idea for consumer use but decided they would be too expensive. Matsushita/Panasonic sold flat plate aerials in Japan, but they cost a lot more than dishes.
To be able to a launch its service with at least a few Squarials, BSB ordered a batch from Japan. They were bigger and more expensive than BSB had promised. BSB also offered ordinary dishes of squarish shape.
STC in Paignton was first to make a truly British Squarial. At 38 cm across, these were still bigger than promised, and more expensive than a dish. But at least they worked as promised.
Unfortunately supplies of STC’s Squarial reached the shops only shortly before BSB’s spectacular collapse into merger with its deadly rival Sky. STC tried making bigger Squarials for use with Sky’s weaker signals, but most people were quite happy with a cheaper dish. They really didn’t care about subtleties or shape when it came to something stuck high up outside on a wall.