London's Satellite Television P.L.C. hopes to rip a chapter out of cable mogul Ted Turner's book by creating what would be Europe's first satellite "superstation."
The company began broadcasting a test signal throughout the continent this week in preparation for next month's anticipated launch of a commercial-supported entertainment channel.
In 1970, Turner pioneered the superstation concept by leasing a satellite link and using it to distribute the programs nationally from his WTBS station to cable systems. Satellite Television P.L.C. is now doing the same thing but in a fashion that marks the beginning of truly international television in Europe and sets the stage for other international broadcast ventures--including proposed direct-broadcast satellite systems that bypass traditional cable and broadcast groups and transmit directly into homes equipped with special antennae.
The 4-year-old, $10 million company already has signed agreements with cable systems in Malta, Finland and Norway and is in "advanced discussions" with cable systems in Austria, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium. Because television in Europe is heavily regulated, Satellite Television's contracts require government approval.
Right now, "We are running a test tape--it's a bit like TV wallpaper, with snippets of sports and music," says Brian Haynes, Satellite Television's director of development. "By April, we hope the receiving equipment will be in place so we can begin broadcasting between two to three hours of programming a night."
Although Haynes declines to provide specifics, he says Satellite Television has "obtained drama, comedy and adventure programming from both U.K. and U.S. services."
Satellite Television is using Europe's OTS (Orbital Test Satellite) to distribute its signal. In industry parlance, the OTS is a "dying bird" that has suffered several electronics failures and could wander from its orbit. "If any more blowouts occur, our service might have to cease, which is why we use the word 'experimental' a lot," Haynes says ruefully.
He hopes to move from the OTS to the European Communication Satellite that is expected to be launched this summer.