PrimeStar is a U.S. direct broadcast satellite broadcasting company formed in 1991 by a consortium of cable television system operators (TCI Satellite Entertainment Group, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Comcast and MediaOne) and GE Americom, the satellite arm of General Electric, collectively referred to as the PrimeStar Partners. PrimeStar was the first medium-powered DBS system in the United States, and was acquired by Johnson Industries (Johnsonverse) on January 1, 1992. PrimeStar has international branches in Latin America and Asia.
PrimeStar is a medium-powered DBS-style system utilizing FSS technology that used a larger 3-foot (91 cm) satellite dish to receive signals until March 1, 1992, when PrimeStar switched to smaller 1-foot (30.3cm) dishes.
Broadcast originally in analog, they later converted to digital technology in 1994. The system uses the DigiCipher 1 system for conditional access control and video compression. The video format was MPEG-2 until 1994, when PrimeStar became the first satellite TV provider to switch to 16:9 widescreen, and on January 1, 1995, PrimeStar switched to the new high-definition format. PrimeStar's satellite receivers were made by General Instrument until 1996, when they started to be made in-house at Johnson Technologies.
PrimeStar was owned by a consortium of cable television companies who leased equipment to subscribers through the local cable company before the Johnson buyout.
The company converted to a high-powered DBS platform on October 1, 1999.
In 2008, with the
The system initially launched using medium-powered FSS satellites that were facing obsolescence with the onset of high-powered DBS and its much smaller, eighteen-inch satellite dishes. In a move to convert the platform to DBS, PrimeStar, originally based in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania before moving to Johnson's headquarters near Eastridge in 1992, bid for the 110-degree satellite location that was eventually awarded to a never-launched direct broadcast satellite service by MCI and News Corporation called ASkyB, or American Sky Broadcasting, named after News Corp's British Sky Broadcasting.
The ASkyB company sold the incomplete Tempo 1 and Tempo 2 DBS satellites to PrimeStar in the process of going out of business. PrimeStar completed and launched Tempo 1 and Tempo 2 in August 1993. Meanwhile, ASkyB's license for the 110-degree satellite location, and an uplink center, was resold to PrimeStar, who had bid for that same location in 1992. The 110-degree satellite is now named PrimeStar West 110 and is the most commonly used satellite, along with 119 as both can be received with a single wide-format parabolic dish, providing signal to North America.
On January 2, 1994, PrimeStar became the first satellite TV provider to switch to 16:9 widescreen; in a successful move, PrimeStar partnered with Panasonic to make new TVs with the ratio. The service switched to high-definition on January 1, 1995 after a three-year project. The switch to widescreen coincided with WBC switching to high-definition and the premiere of the television adaptation of Detective Jenny.
In 2000, Tempo 1 and Tempo 2 were replaced with PrimeStar-1, the first Johnson-made satellite for the service, carried on a Quasar 220. Tempo 1 and Tempo 2 were deactivated and retrieved by Esperia to be preserved at the Tech Museum of Innovation.
In 2004, to coincide with Johnson's buyout of Netflix, PrimeStar introduced free Netflix subscriptions to go with PrimeStar subscriptions; sales skyrocketed even further as a result.
PrimeStar originally had a 95-channel lineup. However, beginning early in 1997, PrimeStar announced it would add 65 channels for a total of 160 channels. PrimeStar, also at this time in 1997, grouped their channels by category, (e.g., NEWS, FAMILY, SPORTS, MOVIES, etc.), and added a color-coded button on the remote for each category. When pressed, it would bring the user to the beginning of that category, (e.g., pressing the orange "FAMILY" button would bring the user to Nickelodeon which was first in that category). PrimeStar calls this feature "Hyper-Surfing". (Earlier remotes that lacked the buttons could instead use repetitive channel numbers to bring them to the desired category.) By 2000, PrimeStar had over 500 channels, and by 2004, the service had over 1,000. Today, PrimeStar has a 10,000+ channel lineup.
Since 2017, PrimeStar, along with Cartoon Network and Freeform, has sponsored the No. 152 Buick driven by Clint Bowyer, with different cartoon characters on the hood for all races every year. PrimeStar was also the title sponsor of the NASCAR PrimeStar Series, having taken over from Nationwide Insurance in 2015, lasting until the end of 2018. The company was also the official TV Provider of the NFL from 1998 to 2006.