2020: The Year in Satellite TV

Our yearly recap this year has one simple rule: We all know the big stories that defined 2020. This isn’t that kind of blog. So there will be no mention of them here. Let’s talk about the other stories for a little while.

2020 was a strange year in satellite TV. For the first year that I can remember, there really wasn’t any new hardware available for consumers. I guess that speaks to the overall quality of the Genie 2 and Hopper 3 that there just wasn’t a need for something new out there. But just because there wasn’t new hardware doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything to talk about

Finally… the Super Bowl in (sorta) 4K

The world took one more step toward 4K this year, something we’ve all been anticipating for way too long. The Super Bowl was finally broadcast in 4K on DIRECTV this year. Even though the feed was upsampled from a clean high definition feed, it was still considerably better than what you tend to see on Fox. Fox still broadcasts at 720p so the difference really was night and day.

The 4K-kinda Super Bowl was followed by many other programs in 4K, including end-of-season baseball action. There was so much 4K that AT&T actually started using a fourth channel for live 4K events, stealing the channel usually used for 4K pay-per-view. That’s a great sign.

4K adoption has been slow, with most people still not really able to tell the difference between decent HD and 4K. But, we’ll get there even if it takes a few more years.

The ever-dwindling list of standard definition channels

Standard definition continued to go out of style this year with fewer and fewer markets even having a full set of duplicates. Starting with smaller markets, SD’s slowly been disappearing from DIRECTV and that trend will continue. Even though the initial 2019 deadline came and went, we’re still expecting fewer SD channels than ever, and eventually none of them. Most of the ones that remain are moving (or have moved) to the “A3” format used by HD channels, meaning that older receivers can’t get them.

In the meantime, the satellite at the 119 location did get retired this year, but surprisingly it was replaced by a satellite that spent most of its service life at the 101 location. This means a temporary reprieve for viewers in a dozen or so markets who get programming from there. It also means a reprieve for AT&T engineers who would need to reprogram millions of receivers connected to 5-location dishes so that they could ignore that location.

RV satellite was big in 2020

The big trend in 2020 was RVing, and we all know why. Getting out of the house safely was a big win for millions of people, as RV dealers struggled to meet demand. It’s forecasted to be the best year ever for RVs.

Many of those RVs already had satellite systems installed, because the used RV market is as big as the new market. But even new RVers snapped up satellite systems because everyone wants to have the full entertainment experience when they travel.

The drive for RVs meant that satellite had a great year this year.

Doom, gloom, and the rumor mill

There were a few trends this year that weren’t so pleasant. Subscriber losses continued for both AT&T and DISH, leading to rumors of sales and mergers. It’s hard to know what the future will bring. The one thing I can say is that we’ll begin ’21 the same way we began ’20. AT&T owns DIRECTV, DISH is its own thing. Period.

Unfortunately the relatively good record for channel blackouts ended late in the year as both AT&T and DISH had big blackouts. DISH’s blackout of Nexstar station counts as the largest local channel blackout in history, both in number of stations and in terms of people served. Not a great achievement but you have to remember it’s not DISH’s fault, it’s the content provider who has unreasonable demands for compensation.

Looking good for satellite

I think ’21 is going to be a very exciting year for satellite television. Expect subscriber losses to level out, and we may just see some new equipment on the horizon. Keep reading this blog and we’ll learn about it together!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.