2015: The Year in Satellite

The biggest year ever… The satellite industry remained the bright spot in the pay-TV landscape in 2015. While cable TV consistently lost subscribers, satellite gained share. Let’s look at the trends that shaped the year.

Three letters: AT&T
The world’s largest pay-television service became part of the AT&T family this year after a protracted review process. DIRECTV, which started life as part of the General Motors / Hughes Aircraft empire, has had a lot of partners over the year but the AT&T deal was different. AT&T will integrate DIRECTV into its other offerings, eventually ridding itself of U-Verse (while there will still be land-based TV, it will be vastly different from today’s AT&T offering.) This move puts AT&T in front of the competition in delivering services to the home and AT&T has only begun to expand. It’s delivering 1000 megabits per second internet to more and more homes and designing a new platform that will work with both terrestrial and satellite services.

The year in 4K… that wasn’t.
Despite the introduction of the C61K 4K Genie Mini and 4K Joey, there remains precious little content to use them on. DIRECTV leads the pack with about 20 pay-per-view movies. You can’t blame the satellite providers for the fact that there just isn’t any live content. All signs point to at least 1 live 4K channel in 2016, but adoption is slow. The industry as a whole seems to have been burned by the failure of 3D and is moving very slowly.

New LNBs and other hardware
Late this year, DISH rolled out its new “DPH” hybrid LNBs, which simplify installation for Hopper installs. DIRECTV introduced its SWM-13 LNB in limited numbers to provide 13-tuner capacity without an external module. It’s expected to be followed up by a 21-tuner version very soon, and the spring should bring us new LNBs designed to work with new “Reverse DBS” systems which will be required for 4K in the future.

Look! Up in the Sky!
DIRECTV’s two new satellites became fully functional this year, giving the company unprecedented capacity including the potential for 50 4K channels. Realistically, this should cover them for a while… there shouldn’t be a need to launch anything in a while, and as far as adding new channels, that’s now squarely in the hands of the lawyers.

Super DVRs? They were already Super enough
The news in DVRs is about what DIDN’T happen this year. Although DISH’s Super Joey addon gives extra recording tuners to Hopper, the rumored 8-tuner Super Hopper hasn’t shown up yet. Maybe we’ll see it at CES. DIRECTV rolled out its HR54 Genie DVR, but it brought no new features other than future 4K capability. After adding Netflix in 2014, DISH didn’t do anything much to beef up its Hopper, while DIRECTV didn’t update its DVRs to support changes at Google so YouTube videos stopped working on DIRECTV DVRs.

The lesson here is simply that people are already getting what they want from their DVRs. Unlike the 2000s when DVR technology was evolving on a nearly daily basis, DVRs are mature now and not likely to change much. You hear rumors of 8-tuner products from both DIRECTV and DISH but really, that’s not what people want. They’re more about streaming and on-demand. DIRECTV has one of the largest libraries of any provider, and DISH relies on Netflix for most on-demand programming.

What’s up for 2016?
DISH shows their cards at the Consumer Electronics Show, so we’ll have some idea of their intentions in just about two weeks. On the other hand, DIRECTV tends to be a little quieter. It’s pretty likely that 2016 will be spent upgrading the terrestrial U-Verse product which certainly needs the upgrades, so it’s hard to know how much effort will go into the satellite technology.

As AT&T and DIRECTV continue to negotiate together, I’m going to make a bold prediction: I think we’ll finally see some of those much sought-after sports channels in the coming 12 months. The rumor was that a PAC-12 deal was close for DIRECTV this year, but didn’t happen. Perhaps in the next year…