HBO Sports - History - National Expansion, Innovation and Rise To Prominence (1975–1996)

National Expansion, Innovation and Rise To Prominence (1975–1996)

On September 30, 1975, HBO became the first TV network to continuously deliver signals via satellite when it showed the "Thrilla in Manila" boxing-match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. HBO switched its domestic satellite transmissions from Westar 1 to Satcom 1 in February 1976 and by 1977 was joined by Ted Turner's Atlanta superstation WTCG-TV (soon to become WTBS) and Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (later to become the present-day ABC Family), laying the foundation for satellite delivery in the modern cable television industry.

The network had broadcast only for nine hours a day for its first nine years on air, from 3 p.m. to midnight ET. In September 1981, HBO began broadcasting a 24-hour schedule on weekends, until midnight ET on Sunday nights. On December 28, 1981, HBO expanded its programming schedule to 24 hours a day, seven days per week (Cinemax had a 24-hour schedule from its launch, and Showtime and The Movie Channel went to a 24-hour schedule earlier). On August 1, 1980, HBO launched a companion network, Cinemax, a movie-based pay service created as HBO's answer to The Movie Channel; in its early years, Cinemax carried music specials and some limited original programming such as SCTV and Max Headroom, in addition to movies, but the network has since become known for airing softcore adult films and series during its late night schedule, and has forayed into original programming with the addition of weekly action series to its lineup in August 2011.

In 1983, HBO's first original movie and the first made-for-pay-TV movie The Terry Fox Story premiered. That year also saw the premiere of the first kids' show broadcast on the channel: Fraggle Rock; HBO continued to air various original programs aimed at children until 2001, when such programs were almost completely moved over to HBO Family. HBO became involved in several legal suits during the 1980s; these involved cable systems and legal statutes imposed by state and city laws that would have censored some programming on HBO and other pay-TV networks. In January 1986, HBO also became the first satellite network to encrypt its signal from unauthorized viewing by way of the Videocipher II System. Four months later, HBO became a victim of broadcast signal intrusion when satellite TV dealer John R. MacDougall, a man calling himself "Captain Midnight", intercepted the network's signal during a movie presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. The Federal Communications Commission subsequently prosecuted MacDougall.

In 1987, HBO launched a short-lived channel, Festival. Festival featured classic movies and recent hit movies, along with specials and documentaries from HBO. Distinctively, Festival's programmers aimed to provide family-friendly fare; R-rated movies were edited for broadcast and only high-quality series, specials and movies were shown. Also, the pricing for subscribing to the channel was cheaper than HBO and Cinemax. Only a few cable systems carried Festival and the channel shut down in late 1988. In 1988, HBO's userbase expanded greatly on account of the Writers Guild of America going on strike; HBO had new programming while standard television channels could only broadcast reruns. In 1989, HBO compared programming against pay-television network Showtime, with the slogan "Nobody Brings it Home Like HBO", using the Tina Turner single "The Best".

When Time Inc. merged with Warner Communications in 1989, HBO became part of Time Warner (which as of 2011, continues to serve as the parent company of the network). Coincidentally, Warner Communications had created rival The Movie Channel (now owned by CBS Corporation) in the late 1970s before Viacom, which purchased a 50% stake in The Movie Channel in 1983, bought Warner's remaining half-ownership of that network in 1985.

In 1991, HBO and Cinemax became the first premium services to offer multiplexing to cable customers. Providing multiple options of HBO and Cinemax instead of just single channel services, HBO2 (renamed HBO Plus from 1998 to 2002) and Cinemax 2 (known as MoreMax since 1998) debuted to three cable systems in Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas. The move proved successful, resulting in HBO and Cinemax launching additional multiplex channels of its service, HBO 3 (launched in 1995, renamed HBO Signature in 1998), HBO Family (launched in 1996), HBO Comedy & HBO Zone (launched in 1999) and HBO Latino, a Latin-themed channel of HBO (launched in 2000). Cinemax also launched the multiplex services Cinemax 3 (launched in 1996, ActionMax in 1998), ThrillerMax (launched in 1998) and WMax, @Max, OuterMax and 5StarMax (all launched in 2001). In 1993, HBO became the world's first digitally transmitted television service., subsequently well known for its online web shows, launched in 1995.

Before 1997, HBO did know success to some extent with shows such as Tales from the Crypt, Dream On, Tracey Takes On..., Mr. Show, and Arliss. HBO did have a series that gained major success although not commercially as successful as shows on the Big Three networks and Fox the show did enjoy a cult status, critical acclaim, and did get nominated for and won many major awards. This series is The Larry Sanders Show and the show is arguably HBO's flagship series during the 90's and possibly the entire HBO time period before 1997. The show is the only HBO comedy to make TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time list and it was also on Time Magazine's list of 100 Best TV Shows of All Time and is ranked by various critics and fans as one of the best TV comedies of the 1990s. The series ranked #38 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, the only HBO comedy to make the list. It was also included in Time magazine's list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time." Other shows which subsequently aired on HBO, such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Extras, and Entourage, have used traits from the show.

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