A brief history of DIRECTV

Perhaps the most popular satellite provider in the United States, DIRECTV® has a long and impressive history under its belt. So who is DIRECTV? And how did they get to where they are today?

DIRECTV – The early years

The satellite as we know it today began in 1984, when Hughes Electronics obtained approval from the FCC to build and operate a direct transmission satellite system, or DBS. The DIRECTV-1 satellite was launched on December 17, 1993, and in 1994 Hughes Electronics founded DIRECTV and launched the first North American offering of DBS service. Often called “minidish”, this new satellite dish was considerably smaller than what consumers were used to (approximately 18 inches in diameter) and much more manageable than those large and cumbersome TVRO satellite dishes of our past.

Along with its sleek and compact appearance, the minidish offered consumers a new way to receive satellite television broadcasts. Older TVRO antenna systems were analog only and based on open standards equipment. Minidish systems, on the other hand, were digital, offering clearer video and audio, and operated in a closed system that required special reception equipment. TVRO systems were also mobile, a necessary feature to allow them to pick up transmissions from multiple satellite systems, while minidish systems are stationary and receive all of their programming from a specific satellite. In August 1994, DIRECTV launched its second satellite, DIRECTV-2, and had one million subscribers at the end of the year.

DIRECTV – Full steam

In 1995, DIRECTV authorized Toshiba and Uniden to begin manufacturing DBS systems. With a $ 170 million advertising commitment, DIRECTV braced for expected subscriber growth and launched its third satellite, DIRECTV-3, in July.

In 1997, DIRECTV launched DIRECTV-6 and in 1998, with more than 4 million subscribers, DIRECTV Satellite entered into an agreement to purchase its partner, US Satellite Broadcasting for more than $ 1.3 billion in stock and cash. The merger gave DIRECTV customers access to USSB’s premier movie broadcast, increasing channel selection from 185 to 210. In July, DIRECTV invested $ 250 million in XM satellite radio.

1999 brought even more growth when DIRECTV acquired Primestar, Inc. and its 2.3 million subscribers. As part of the transaction, DIRECTV inherited Primestar’s satellite assets, specifically 11 transponders and two satellites, giving them high-powered DBS frequencies to provide full coverage of the continental United States. In addition to the Primestar acquisition, DIRECTV launched a new satellite of its own, DIRECTV-1R on October 10.

By 2001, DIRECTV Satellite had gained more than 10 million subscribers and in October announced its intention to merge with its main competitor, EchoStar Communications, the parent company of DISH Network. In November, DIRECTV teamed up with Music Choice and Wink Communications to announce a new interactive music commerce service that would allow consumers to purchase a CD of the song they were listening to directly through their remote control. This 24/7 feature was launched in September 2002.

EchoStar’s merger with DISH Network failed in 2003 and later that year, General Motors sold its majority stake in Hughes Electronics to News Corporation. 2003 also saw the introduction of a new high definition video recorder from DIRECTV and TiVo, as well as a second-generation model through a partnership with Philips. This was also the second year in a row that DIRECTV was named # 1 in customer service by JD Powers & Associates.

On November 11, 2003, DIRECTV enjoyed its 12 million customer milestone.


DIRECTV currently serves more than 14 million subscribers in the continental United States, as well as more than one million subscribers in Latin America. It continues to be the leading provider of consumer satellites and continues to expand its offerings through high definition and special interest packages such as NFL SUNDAY TICKET and TOTAL CHOICE® Mobile programming.

What does the future hold for DIRECTV?

With four new satellites expected by the end of 2007 and exclusive high-end broadcast DVR advancements, DIRECTV continues to push the boundaries and expand the definition of satellite television entertainment. What’s next for DIRECTV?

If history offers any clues, it’s sure to be great!

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