What will happen to the 119 satellite location when SD service stops in 2019?

It’s coming. DIRECTV has already told us that in 2019, they will be stopping all SD service. They’ve been aggressively trying to get customers to move to HD for years, and with some of their older satellites going end-of-life in 2019, they’ve opted simply not to replace them. That means a large reduction in SD capacity, and they’ve decided to deal with that by discontinuing all SD service.

There’s a lot of the mechanics that still haven’t been worked out yet (that we know of) but one question that keeps coming up is whether or not DIRECTV will keep broadcasting at the 119 location. Right now the company operates one satellite, DIRECTV-7S in that location, which was licensed in 2004. By 2019 it will be at its end-of-life and will probably move into a parking orbit where it will spend eternity, or at least until random interactions shatter it to bits and those bits fall into the atmosphere (or destroy the international space station).

At the moment I have been unable to find any pending applications for new satellites or services at the 119 location. I have a feeling that there’s still a lot of talk about what to do with the broadcast rights for that location. DIRECTV doesn’t need them but DISH could probably benefit from them. It’s very possible that we’ll see DIRECTV “squat” on those licenses for as long as they can, just to keep them out of the hands of others.

The 119 satellite location was part of a late-1990s plan to provide local channels to the western part of the country, and since 119 degrees longitude puts the satellite roughly parallel to San Diego, you can imagine that it’s a bit of a challenge to get people on the east coast to see that satellite. It’s not impossible as it is with DISH’s 129 degree location, but it isn’t a piece of cake either. Signal loss and difficulty installing were certainly concerns when DIRECTV decided that it would be better to pay a massive amount of money for the 99 and 103 satellite locations, which together with the 101 provide a cluster of satellites that can be seen anywhere in the continental US with relative ease.

DIRECTV has launched the largest communications satellites in history into those locations, and as a result they aren’t suffering for channel capacity. Maybe, just maybe if 4K takes off and they need space for thousands of local 4K channels, they might need to launch more. But, as I said way back when, that isn’t going to happen. They just don’t need to worry about the 119 satellite.

What about people who use that satellite for local channels? It’s a rapidly shrinking list as the number of markets that use that satellite for any services at all gets smaller and smaller. All national English language channels have been taken off that satellite location as well. Even people who do live in a market served by SD locals on the 119 satellite can tune to HD locals on another satellite, and DIRECTV has stopped activating SD-only customers nationwide.

If you are still and SD-only customer and you still get your locals from the 119 satellite you’ll be given chances to upgrade, and if you don’t you’ll not only lose channels in 2019 but potentially you’ll also be plagued with “signal loss” errors. There will probably be software updates to address that but there’s also the possibilities that the signal loss message could simply be replaced by a screen saying “It’s time to upgrade to HD” and that might be just as annoying.

For most people, they’ll have long since made the move to modern HD equipment and when the 119 satellite location goes silent, it will simply be a non-event. For DIRECTV, they may hold onto those licenses or surrender them, and it won’t have any effect on you.