CBS Inc. yesterday announced plans to offer a direct satellite-to-home broadcasting service that would permit consumers to receive a revolutionary new type of clear, large-screen picture and stereophonic sound.
The filing sets up a fierce battle for new slots in the sky among CBS, RCA Corp. and a host of smaller concerns that yesterday asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to operate direct satellite-to-home broadcasting systems.
The announcements, which follow plans announced last year by Communications Satellite Corp. (Comsat) to offer a three-channel pay television service, are expected to give added impetus to the FCC's consideration of the proposals.
The CBS plan is particularly striking because it proposes potentially the most sweeping technological changes for television viewers in the last 40 years, changes the relationship between affiliated stations and the network, and alters the distribution system for movie theaters. In addition, if the plan is approved, it would be the first CBS satellite launch.
At the heart of the CBS proposal is the use of direct broadcast satellites (DBS) to distribute high-resolution television. High-resolution television serve would permit CBS to put about twice as many lines on a screen, enabling large screens for the first time to reproduce pictures with the same clarity as the small screen.
"The screen could be more like a cinemascope screen," said Gene Jankowski, president of the CBS Broadcast Group, in an interview. "This could make us the standard-setter for the world. We think that what we need to do in next century is improve the quality of our picture."
Under the CBS plan, the company would operate three new channels with programming distributed via four satellites. One channel would offer advertiser-supporter services distributed through local affiliates. The second and third channels would offer direct services to receiving dishes atop homes and businesses.
In addition, CBS plans to distribute its feature films to theaters using the satellite system. Company officials said they did not know exactly what the entire system would cost.
RCA's proposal also calls for the operation of four of these satellites, a program that would cost the company's RCA American subsidiary $760 million. The company said it would only operate the space segment of the system, suggesting that the programming would be provided by others.
The filings, particularly the CBS proposal, are particularly ironic because the television networks and their affiliated stations have criticized Comsat's DBS proposal, charging that Comsat's plan would run counter to the historic locally based nature of the industry. But new FCC Chairman Mark Fowler has encouraged the broadcasting industry to not simply criticize new technology, but to use the technology to offer new consumer services.
Western Union Corp. also was expected to file a petition for DBS service yesterday, the deadline for applications under interim FCC rules.