Special Report on Electronic Gifts: Meteoric rise in satellite viewing despite 'sparklies': David Guest looks at the increasing array of television shows beamed from our skies at night

BY THE turn of the century, two-thirds of households in Britain will be able to watch satellite television, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Bureau.

What will they be watching? The choice is already extensive. With a fixed dish Astra unit, 32 channels are on offer. A motorised dish captures many more. One of the latest receivers to go on sale, the Mimtec Spirit, has the capacity to be upgraded for use in a motorised system but already caters for 200 channels. A 184-channel system from Discus Satellites of Dundee costs pounds 995.95.

The television listings printed in national newspapers illustrate the first problem for viewers contemplating such abundant broadcasting: as the number of channels grows, the room available to say anything about individual programmes shrinks. Eventually, as anyone who has ever used a US newspaper to discover what is on television will confirm, programme descriptions disappear entirely. At this point, it is difficult to escape the inference that the content of the programmes does not actually matter very much.

In the listings magazine Satellite and Video Today, the monthly programme schedules of 28 channels are printed. Many of the entries are cryptically short, and that's before you begin to consider what Ein Madchen Namens Dinky, Methode Victor and Viaje al Espanol might be about. If viewers are to pick programmes on the strength of their titles alone, the winner looks like Red Hot Dutch channel's offering, Night of the Living Debbies.

The possibility exists that television viewing will become a hobby - viewers will collect channels. They will also be encouraged to spend widely on accessories designed to enhance their enjoyment of their hobby. The nature of the programmes on offer seems destined to become a detail of diminishing significance.

Choice is also extended in other areas. Around satellite television, a remarkable range of extras has grown up. Thus, for couch potatoes who chafe under the requirement of watching television in a room equipped with an aerial socket, there are now boxes available to re-transmit the signals received by the dish to three different television sets anywhere in the house.

Outside the house - in a caravan, for example - portable televisions may be adorned with discreet plastic aerials that cost less than pounds 50.

Inside the house, the room that houses the television can easily be transformed into something resembling a cinema. Home cinema systems, distinguished by laser disks, sound systems and widescreen television sets, are widely promoted.

None of this will impress a television buff if reception is unsatisfactory. Satellite television has its own vocabulary, and the condition which in a normal television would be dismissed prosaically as interference is called 'the sparklies'. 'Sparklies' may be tackled by a variety of chemical solutions applied to the dish, or by installing a device which fine-tunes the angle of the dish - devices of this type may also be used to scan the heavens for more satellites.

Dish technology continues to advance. No satellite watcher will accept that size doesn't matter. The basic 60cm model may be adequate but 80cm and 90cm are not unusual and one supplier advertises a 5m unit.

Environmentally aware viewers may prefer the discreet cone style of the Revox horn, and those who live in flats are increasingly likely to be wired up to a communal dish.

The BBC's recently published strategy envisages its share of the viewing audience dropping to 20 per cent. In the light of activity in the satellite industry, that looks optimistic. It may be that the only thing that can stop the remorseless advance of satellite broadcasting is the recession.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence