First cable boxes

First cable boxes DEFAULT

Invention of Yagi Antenna

  • Invention of Yagi Antenna
    Yagi Antenna
    Hidetsugu Yagi, a professor in the Department of Engineering at Tohoku University, was researching ultrashort waves and in 1925, discovered that electric waves can be strongly received under a certain condition. With the help of Shintaro Uda of Yagi laboratory, he invented the antenna for ultrashort waves.
  • Invention of television
    Television Invention
    ohn Logie Baird (1888-1946), the Scotsman who was the first person in the world to demonstrate a working television system. On January 26th, 1926, a viable television system was demonstrated using mechanical picture scanning with electronic amplification at the transmitter and at the receiver.
  • Invention of CATV
    Cable Television
    A CATV System was developed in the late 1940s by James F. Reynolds.
  • Jerrold Cable Converter Box
    1980 Jerrold Starcom IIIJerrold was GI's original cable TV brand, active from 1948 into the early 1990s. Around 1993, GI dropped the Jerrold branding. The Jerrold brand was prominent on both addressable and non-addressable cable TV converter boxes that were used on non-cable ready sets and cable-ready sets with premium pay services.
  • Home Box Office
    HBO websiteIn 1972, Charles Dolan and Gerald Levin of Sterling Manhattan Cable launched the nation’s first pay-TV network, Home Box Office (HBO).
    In 1975, HBO was the first cable network to be delivered nationwide by satellite transmission. Prior to this, starting in 1972, it had been quietly providing pay programming to CATV systems in Penn. and NY, using microwave technology for transmission. HBO was also the first true premium cable (or "pay-cable") network.
  • Basic Cable
    The first basic cable network, launched via satellite in 1976, was Ted Turner's superstation WTCG (Turner Communications Group), Channel 17, Atlanta.
  • Cable Act
    Cable Act The 1984 Cable Act established a more favorable regulatory framework for the industry, stimulating investment in cable plant and programming on an unprecedented level.
  • Cable TV Operating Companies
    Cable LabsFounded in 1988 by cable television operating companies, Cable Television Laboratories, Inc. (CableLabs) is a non-profit research and development consortium that has cable operators as its members.
  • Time Warner Cable
    Time WarnerTime Warner Cable was formed in 1989 through the merger of Time Inc.'s cable television company, American Television and Communications Corp., and Warner Cable, a division of Warner Communications, as a result of a merger to form Time Warner. It also includes the remnants of the defunct QUBE interactive TV service. In 1995, the company launched the Southern Tier On-Line Community, a cable modem service now known as Road Runner High Speed Online.
  • MSO
    BroadWorks for MSOA cable system in the United States, by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) definition, is a facility serving a single community or a distinct governmental entity, each with its own franchise agreement with the cable company.
  • DBS
    Direct BroadcastDirect broadcast satellite (DBS) is a term used to refer to satellite television broadcasts intended for home reception.
    DIRECTVThese systems provided great pictures and stereo sound on 150-200 video and audio channels, and the small digital satellite TV dish era began in a serious way.
  • HD TV
    HD TV
    The term high definition once described a series of television systems originating from the late 1930s; however, these systems were only high definition when compared to earlier systems that were based on mechanical systems with as few as 30 lines of resolution.
  • TiVo DVR
    TiVoTiVo is an independent manufacturer of digital video recorders (DVRs) that record and store television programming to play back at any time. TiVo designs its receivers to be adaptable to the service of various cable TV providers, replacing the set-top boxes and DVRs of those providers
  • DCR
    DCRAt the end of 2002, the consumer electronics and cable industries reached a “plug-and-play” agreement that allowed “one-way” digital television sets to be connected directly to cable systems without the need for a set-top box. These new sets are marketed under the name Digital Cable Ready television sets (DCRs).
  • CTAM
    CTAMBy 2002, the cable landscape largely reflected the findings of a study sponsored by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM). The study showed that roughly two of every three U.S. households had access to three cutting-edge communication tools: cable television, cellular phones and personal computers.
  • DTV
    DTVDTVThe switch from analog to digital broadcast television is referred to as the Digital TV (DTV) Transition. In 1996, the U.S. Congress authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each broadcast TV station so that they could start a digital broadcast channel while simultaneously continuing their analog broadcast channel.
    Later, Congress set June 12, 2009 as the deadline for full power television stations to stop broadcasting analog signals.

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History of Cable

In the past 65 years, cable has emerged from a fledgling novelty for a handful of households to the nation’s preeminent provider of digital television, movies and state-of-the-art broadband Internet service available to millions of Americans.

Today, thanks to broadband cable and other breakthroughs, the technological landscape is unrecognizable compared with even a few years ago. Consumers now enjoy video content and Internet access from multiple services on multiple devices. They can go online anytime, anywhere with more options and opportunities than ever.


Click on the graph above for a more in depth view.

The 1940s and 1950s

Cable television originated in the United States almost simultaneously in Arkansas, Oregon and Pennsylvania in 1948 to enhance poor reception of over-the-air television signals in mountainous or geographically remote areas. “Community antennas” were erected on mountain tops or other high points, and homes were connected to the antenna towers to receive the broadcast signals.

By 1952, 70 “cable” systems served 14,000 subscribers nationwide.

In the late 1950s, cable operators began to take advantage of their ability to pick up broadcast signals from hundreds of miles away. Access to these “distant signals” began to change the focus of cable’s role from one of transmitting local broadcast signals to one of providing new programming choices.

The 1960s

By 1962, almost 800 cable systems serving 850,000 subscribers were in business. Well-known corporate names like Westinghouse, TelePrompTer and Cox began investing in the business, complementing the efforts of early entrepreneurs like Bill Daniels, Martin Malarkey and Jack Kent Cooke.

The growth of cable through the importation of distant signals was viewed as competition by local television stations. Responding to broadcast industry concerns, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expanded its jurisdiction and placed restrictions on the ability of cable systems to import distant television signals. As a result of these restrictions, there was a “freeze” effect on the development of cable systems in major markets, lasting into the early ‘70s (see below).

The 1970s

In the early 1970s, the FCC continued its restrictive policies by enacting regulations that limited the ability of cable operators to offer movies, sporting events, and syndicated programming.

The freeze on cable’s development lasted until 1972, when a policy of gradual cable deregulation led to, among other things, modified restrictions on the importation of distant signals. The clamp on growth had adverse financial effects, especially on access to capital. Money for cable growth and expansion all but dried up for several years.

However, concerted industry efforts at the federal, state, and local levels resulted in the continued lessening

of restrictions on cable throughout the decade. These changes, coupled with cable’s pioneering of satellite communications technology, led to a pronounced growth of services to consumers and a substantial increase in cable subscribers.

In 1972, Charles Dolan and Gerald Levin of Sterling Manhattan Cable launched the nation’s first pay-TV network, Home Box Office (HBO). This venture led to the creation of a national satellite distribution system that used a newly approved domestic satellite transmission. Satellites changed the business dramatically, paving the way for the explosive growth of program networks.

The second service to use the satellite was a local television station in Atlanta that broadcast primarily sports and classic movies. The station, owned by R.E. “Ted” Turner, was distributed by satellite to cable systems nationwide, and soon became known as the first “superstation,” WTBS.

By the end of the decade, growth had resumed, and nearly 16 million households were cable subscribers.

The 1980s

The 1984 Cable Act established a more favorable regulatory framework for the industry, stimulating investment in cable plant and programming on an unprecedented level.

Deregulation provided by the 1984 Act had a strong positive effect on the rapid growth of cable services. From 1984 through 1992, the industry spent more than $15 billion on the wiring of America, and billions more on program development. This was the largest private construction project since World War II.

Satellite delivery, combined with the federal government’s relaxation of cable’s restrictive regulatory structure, allowed the cable industry to become a major force in providing high quality video entertainment and information to consumers. By the end of the decade, nearly 53 million households subscribed to cable, and cable program networks had increased from 28 in 1980 to 79 by 1989. Some of this growth, however, was accompanied by rising prices for consumers, incurring growing concern among policy makers.

The 1990s

In 1992, Congress responded to cable price increases and other market factors with legislation that once again hampered cable growth and opened heretofore “exclusive” cable programming to other competitive distribution technologies such as “wireless cable” and the emerging direct satellite broadcast (DBS) business.

In spite of the effect of the 92 Act, the number of satellite networks continued their explosive growth, based largely on the alternative idea of targeting programming to a specific “niche” audience. By the end of 1995, there were 139 cable programming services available nationwide, in addition to many regional programming networks. By the spring of 1998, the number of national cable video networks had grown to 171.

By that time, the average subscriber could choose from a wide selection of quality programming, with more than 57 percent of all subscribers receiving at least 54 channels, up from 47 in 1996. And at the end of the decade, approximately 7 in 10 television households, more than 65 million, had opted to subscribe to cable.

Also during the latter half of the decade, cable operating companies commenced a major upgrade of their distribution networks, investing $65 billion between 1996 and 2002 to build higher capacity hybrid networks of fiber optic and coaxial cable. These “broadband” networks can provide multichannel video, two-way voice, high-speed Internet access, and high definition and advanced digital video services all on a single wire into the home.

The upgrade to broadband networks enabled cable companies to introduce high-speed Internet access to customers in the mid-90s, and competitive local telephone and digital cable services later in the decade.

Enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 once again dramatically altered the regulatory and public policy landscape for telecommunications services, spurring new competition and greater choice for consumers. It also spurred major new investment, with America’s then-largest telecommunications colossus, AT&T, entering the business in 1998, though exiting four years later (see below). Almost simultaneously, Paul Allen, a founder of Microsoft, began acquiring his own stable of cable properties. And America On-Line moved on an historic merger with Time Warner and its cable properties, to form AOL Time Warner.

A generally deregulatory environment for cable operating and programming companies enabled the cable industry to accelerate deployment of broadband services, allowing consumers in urban, suburban, and rural areas to entertain more choices in information, communications, and entertainment services.

2000 and Beyond

Arrival of the new millennium brought with it hopes and plans for acceleration of advanced services over cable’s broadband networks.

As the new millennium got under way, cable companies began pilot testing video services that could change the way people watch television. Among these: video on demand, subscription video on demand, and interactive TV. The industry was proceeding cautiously in these arenas, because the cost of upgrading customer-premise equipment for compatibility with these services was substantial and required new business models that were both expansive and expensive.

In 2001, partly in response to those demands, AT&T agreed to fold its cable systems with those of Comcast Corp., creating the largest ever cable operator with more than 22 million customers.

Lower cost digital set-top boxes that started to become the norm in customer homes in the mid 1990s proved effective in accommodating the launch of many of the new video services. In general, however, more expensive technology would still be required for cable to begin delivery of advances such as high definition television services, being slowly introduced by off-air broadcast stations as well as by cable networks such as HBO, Showtime, Discovery, and ESPN.

By 2002, the cable landscape largely reflected the findings of a study sponsored by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM). The study showed that roughly two of every three U.S. households had access to three cutting-edge communication tools: cable television, cellular phones and personal computers. Digital cable could be found in 18 percent of U.S. television homes, suggesting an overall digital cable penetration among cable customers in the range of 27 percent. As for data services, the research revealed that 20 percent of cable customers with PCs are using high-speed modems today.

Cable operators with upgraded two-way plant have been witnessing dramatic growth in “broadband” data. Cable has quickly become the technology of choice for such services, outpacing rival technologies, such as digital subscriber line (DSL) service, offered by phone companies, by a margin of 2 to 1. Subscribership to high-speed Internet access service via cable modems had grown to more than 10 million by the end of the third quarter of 2002.

As for telephone service using the cable conduit, growth was evident in all the limited market areas where such service was offered. More than 2 million customers were using cable for their phone connections by mid 2002.

To accommodate accelerating demand, cable programmers are rapidly expanding their menu of digital cable offerings. By 2002, about 280 nationally-delivered cable networks were available, with that number growing steadily.

At the end of 2002, the consumer electronics and cable industries reached a “plug-and-play” agreement that allowed “one-way” digital television sets to be connected directly to cable systems without the need for a set-top box. These new sets are marketed under the name Digital Cable Ready television sets (DCRs). A security device called a CableCARD is provided by cable operators to allow cable customers to view encrypted digital programming after it is authorized to do so by the cable operator. Talks to resolve issues related to “two-way” digital television sets began in 2003 and continue.

The digital TV transition leapt forward in 2003, as substantial gains were made in the deployment of High-Definition Television (HDTV), Video-on-Demand (VOD), digital cable, and other advanced services. Competitive digital phone service gained momentum as cable introduced Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services. At the start of 2006, cable companies counted a total of about 5 million telephone customers, representing VoIP customers and customers for traditional circuit switched telephone service.

An NCTA survey of the top 10 MSOs showed that by September 1 of 2004, 700 CableCARDs were installed. By mid-November, that number had grown to over 5,000 CableCARDs. One year later, at the end of 2005, NCTA estimated that number had reached 100,000.

Results at the end of the Third Quarter of 2005 provide ample evidence of the growth potential of cable’s new position as a broadband provider. Cable’s capital expenditures reached $100 billion. Cable’s high-speed Internet service ended the quarter with 24.3 million subscribers, and the number of digital cable customers had grown to 27.6 million.


Today, cable provides video entertainment, Internet connectivity, and digital telephone service to millions of consumers. What began over a half century ago among a few visionary pioneers has led to the creation of approximately 800 programming networks viewed by over 93% of Americans.  And they provide it incredible Internet Speeds of up to 2 GBPS, with those speeds continuing to climb.

Cable Operators have reinvented television, creating TV that goes where our customers go.  Wherever you are, on whatever device you choose.

Cable Operators have provided more than $275 billion in infrastructure in the last 20 years and support over 2.9 million jobs.

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Our first cable box

I still remember that day in the late 80s/early 90s. There was what appeared to be a repairman fixing our living room TV but our TV wasn't broken. Instead he leaves behind this wood finished box with bright red numbered lights on top of the TV.

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From that day on our TV was permanently set on Channel 3 since everything went through "the box". There was now a world that expanded beyond CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC and PBS. There was no more buying a new and better TV antenna or putting aluminum foil on the antenna to enhance it.

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We now had over 50 channels!

And there was no Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Cablevision, Cox, Qwest, or Charter. This was your regular old county cable company. It was so complex that the cable guy had to give my parents instructions on how to use it. There were so many channels we had to print out the list of the channels because there was no way to ever memorize them all. I remember the best way to recognize these channels I've never heard of was by the logos they had for each station.

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First I remember channel 57, the Disney Channel.

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I think this was what I was the most excited about when we first had cable. At the time this was premium so it costs extra. Non stop Disney cartoons and movies from Good Morning, Mickey!, Welcome to Pooh Corner, and Kids Incorporated.

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Then as I was scrolling up and down all the channels I discovered another channel that had non stop kids programming. That was Nickelodeon, channel 43.

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I remember You Can't Do That On Television as an SNL for kids, and it was the type of clean programming your parents still would rather you not watch. There was The Adventures of Pete and Pete, Clarissa Explains It All, Hey Dude, and Salute Your Shorts.

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Not long after that came the big three of Rugrats, Doug and the Ren and Stimpy Show.

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These shows were very popular and as I type this I have theme songs to all three in my head. I didn't know one person who didn't watch these shows and I still remember how huge they were in terms of the merchandise they produced from these three shows. I must have spent so many hours on channel 43, I think every time I turned the cable box on it was already set there.

Since I watched Nickelodeon so much I would stay up late when it became Nick at Nite.

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I felt that at 9pm I always felt disappointed since I didn't want to stop watching cartoons and children's programming. All the sudden I would be stuck with the Donna Reed Show for the rest of the night. That wasn't fair. And then they would throw in episodes of the old Dennis the Menace which I didn't like for some reason. I think this is why I hate black and white movies to this day. When they take away the color from our shows they take away more then they know, especially when you're a young kid with ADD like me. It's scary that now a days when you tune into Nite at Nite you see 90's TV shows that I grew up with like the shows that used to be on TGIF. It makes me feel really old.

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There was also good old Comedy Central which was channel 99 (the highest number the box had since it just showed two digits even though most of the channels high up didn't exist)

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This channel has come a long way but hasn't really changed much when you think about it. The Daily Show was on there but it had ESPN alumni Craig Kilborn instead. Shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000, and Dr. Katz seemed to be on all day. Also was a show that I hated called Absolutely Fabulous that I would always change the channel when it came on. Today I think Comedy Central is a lot better as far as the programs it has on.

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Then of course there was MTV, which stood for music Music Television, because back then the channel actually revolved around music and not bad programming. (Speaking of which when MTV got horrible there was also always VH1 to turn to since that still had music and now that has horrible programming as well) In any case I just remember turning on this channel and having a great music video on no matter what.

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Great videos by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, you name it. And I loved the countdowns especially the Alternative Nation ones. But of course above all the main reason I stayed up to watch MTV was to watch Beavis and Butt-head. Let's face it they are one of the many icons of our generation... and nothing is wrong with that.

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It's unbelievable how today we have close to 1,000 channels and we don't really appreciate it (until the bill comes) Part of me misses that original box. Thanks for reading!
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Cable television in the United States

Historical and descriptive outline of the American cable television industry

Cable television first became available in the United States in 1948.[1] By 1989, 53 million U.S. households received cable television subscriptions,[2] with 60 percent of all U.S. households doing so in 1992.[3] with Data by SNL Kagan shows that as of 2006[update] about 58.4% of all American homes subscribe to basic cable television services.[needs update] Most cable viewers in the U.S. reside in the suburbs and tend to be middle class;[4] cable television is less common in low income, urban, and rural areas.[4]

According to reports released by the Federal Communications Commission, traditional cable television subscriptions in the US peaked around the year 2000, at 68.5 million total subscriptions.[5] Since then, cable subscriptions have been in slow decline, dropping to 54.4 million subscribers by December 2013.[6] Some telephone service providers have started offering television, reaching to 11.3 million video subscribers as of December 2013.[6]


First systems[edit]

It is claimed that the first cable television system in the United States was created in 1948 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania by John Walson to provide television signals to people whose reception was poor because of tall mountains and buildings blocking TV signals.[7] Mahanoy City was ideally suited for CATV services, since broadcast television signals could easily be received via mountaintop antennas and retransmitted by "twin-lead" or "ladder-lead" cable to the valley community below (where broadcast reception was very poor). Walson's "first" claim is highly disputed[by whom?], however, since his claimed starting date cannot be verified.[8] The United States Congress and the National Cable Television Association have recognized Walson as having invented cable television in the spring of 1948.[7]

A CATV system was developed in the late 1940s by James F. Reynolds in his town of Maple Dale, Pennsylvania, which grew to include Sandy Lake, Stoneboro, Polk, Cochranton, and Meadville.

Even though Eastern Pennsylvania, particularly the counties of Schuylkill and Carbon in the anthracite coal region, had several of the earliest CATV systems, there were other CATV entrepreneurs scattered throughout the United States. One was James Y. Davidson of Tuckerman, Arkansas. Davidson was the local movie theater manager and ran a radio repair business on the side. In 1949, he set up a cable system to bring the signal of a newly launched Memphis, Tennessee station to his community, which was located too far away to receive the signal with set-top antennas alone.[citation needed]

Leroy E. "Ed" Parsons built the first cable television system in the United States that used coaxial cable, amplifiers, and a community antenna to deliver television signals to an area that otherwise would not have been able to receive broadcast television signals. In 1948, Parsons owned a radio station in Astoria, Oregon. A year earlier he and his wife had first seen television at a broadcasters' convention. In the spring of 1948, Parsons learned that radio station KRSC (now KKNW) in Seattle – 125 miles away – was going to launch a television station that fall. He found that with a large antenna he could receive KRSC's signal on the roof of the Hotel Astoria and from there he ran coaxial cable across the street to his apartment. When the station (now KING-TV) went on the air in November 1948, Parsons was the only one in town able to see television. According to MSNBC's Bob Sullivan, Parsons charged a $125 one-time set-up fee and a $3 a month service fee.[9] In May 1968, Parsons was acknowledged as the father of community antenna television.[10]

First commercial system[edit]

In 1950, Robert Tarlton developed the first commercial cable television system in the United States. Tarlton organized a group of fellow television set retailers in Lansford, Pennsylvania, a town in the same region as Mahanoy City, to offer television signals from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania broadcast stations to homes in Lansford for a fee. The system was featured in stories in The New York Times, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal.[citation needed] The publicity of this successful early system set off a wave of cable system construction throughout the United States, and Tarlton himself became a highly sought-after consultant.[citation needed]

Tarlton used equipment manufactured by a new company, Jerrold Electronics. After seeing the success of the Tarlton system in 1950, Jerrold president (and future Pennsylvania governor) Milton Shapp reorganized his company to build equipment for the now-growing cable industry. In 1952, Tarlton went to work for Jerrold, helping to construct most of the major systems built by that company in the 1950s. Tarlton was also responsible for training many of the major operators of cable systems in the 1950s. In 2003, Tarlton was inducted in the Cable Television Hall of Fame for his work building the first widely publicized cable television company in America.[11]

Early growth[edit]

The rise of free broadcast television during the 1950s greatly threatened the established entertainment industry by offering an alternative to the common practice of regularly paying to see films. The possibility of turning free television viewers into paid television viewers was discussed early on. For example, after 25 million American televisions tuned to a musical version of Cinderella in 1957, executives calculated that had the network received 25¢ for each television tuned to the show, it would have earned more than $6 million without distribution costs.[12] However, due to many legal, regulatory and technological obstacles, cable television in the United States in its first 24 years was used almost exclusively to relay terrestrialcommercial television stations to remote and inaccessible areas. It also became popular in other areas in which mountainous terrain caused poor reception over the air. Original programming over cable came in 1972 with deregulation of the industry.[1]

During the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)'s freeze on television licenses from 1948 to 1952,[13] the demand for television increased. Since new television station licenses were not being issued, the only way the demand was met, even in communities with one or more operating broadcast stations, was by Community Antenna Television (CATV), as early cable was known (so named because of the literal sharing of a very large receiving antenna by an entire community).


Policy history[edit]

On August 1, 1949, T.J. Slowie, a secretary of the Federal Communications Commission, sent a letter to a Parsons requesting that he "furnish [to] the Commission full information with respect to the nature of the system you may have developed and may be operating." This is the first known involvement of the FCC in CATV. An FCC lawyer, E. Stratford Smith, determined the Commission could exercise common carrier jurisdiction over CATV. The FCC did not act on this opinion, and Smith later changed his mind after working in the cable industry for some time. Further, Smith's decision was influenced by his experiences testifying several times in United States Senate committee hearings. Senator, and future FCC commissioner, Kenneth A. Cox attended and participated in these hearings. He prepared a report for the Senate Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce against CATV and supporting the FCC policy of a television station in every community.

In 1959 and 1961, bills were introduced in Congress of the United States that would have determined the role of the FCC in CATV policy. Chief architect of some of these bills was attorney Yolanda G. Barco. She was one of the first female executives in cable, described as the "principal attorney for cable television interests during the industry's formative years".[14] The 1959 bill, which made it to the floor of the Senate, would have limited FCC jurisdiction to CATV systems within the contours (or the broadcast range) of a single station; however, the bill was defeated. The 1961 bill proposed by the FCC would have given the Commission authority over CATV as CATV, and not as a common carrier or broadcaster. The Commission could then adopt rules and regulations "in the public interest" to govern CATV in any area covered both by CATV and broadcast television. No action was ever taken on this bill.

More important than Congressional action in determining Federal Communications Commission CATV policy were court cases and FCC hearings. In Frontier Broadcasting Co. v. Collier, broadcasters tried to compel the FCC to exercise common carrier authority over 288 CATV systems in 36 states. The broadcasters maintained that CATV went against the FCC's Sixth Report and Order, which advocated at least one television station in every community. In 1958, the FCC decided that CATV was not really a common carrier since the subscriber did not determine the programming. Carter Mountain Transmission Corp., a common carrier that already transmitted television signals by microwave to CATV systems in several Wyoming towns, wanted to add a second signal to two of the towns and add two signals to a previously unserved town. A television station in one town opposed this and protested to the FCC on the grounds of economic damage. A hearing examiner supported Carter Mountain, but the Commission supported the television station. The case was taken to appeal, and the Federal Communications Commission won. "The fact that no broadcaster has actually gone off the air due to CATV competition at the time the government moved to expand its authority (nor have any since) did not stay the momentum for the expansion of regulatory authority. That some economic impact was merely plausible sufficed as the basis for government concern and government action". The FCC overruled a hearing examiner in favor of broadcasters again in the "San Diego Case". The CATV systems in San Diego, California wanted to import stations from Los Angeles, some of which could be seen in San Diego; the television stations in San Diego did not want the signals to be imported. The television stations won, not allowing the signals on future cable lines in San Diego and its environs. The FCC's reasoning was to protect existing and future UHF stations in San Diego. (One of the pioneers of cable TV was KSA-TV)

In the First Report and Order by the Federal Communications Commission on CATV, the FCC gave itself the power to regulate CATV. This Report and Order was designed to protect television stations in small towns. It did this by imposing two rules, which slightly altered form: one requires that a CATV system carry all local stations in which the CATV system is in the A- (best reception) contour of the station. The second prohibits the importation of programs from a non-local station that duplicates programming on a local station if the duplication is shown either 15 days before or after its local airing. This 1965 report reasoning is as follows: 1) CATV should carry local stations because CATV supplements, not replaces, local stations; and, the non-carriage of local stations gives distant stations an advantage since people will not change from the cable to the antenna to see a local station; 2) non-carriage is "inherently contrary to the public interest"; and, 3) CATV duplication of local programming via distant signals is unfair since broadcasters and CATV do not compete for programs on an equal footing; the FCC recommended "a reasonable measure of exclusivity".

The 1966 Second Report and Order made some minor changes in the First Report and Order and added a major regulation. This was designed to protect UHF stations in large cities. The new rule disallowed the importation of distant signals into the top 100 markets, thus making CATV at that time profitable only in cities with poor reception. In 1968, the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's right to make rules and regulations concerning CATV. In its decision on United States v. Southwestern Cable, the "San Diego Case", it said "the Commission's authority over 'all interstate ... communications by wire or radio' permits the regulation of CATV systems."


See also: Carriage dispute, Must-carry, and Retransmission consent

Carriage refers to the agreement under which a cable provider rebroadcasts a television channel on its network. The Federal Communications Commission puts various requirements on these agreements, which may include channels cable providers are required to carry, and moderates disputes over the fees and conditions of any particular agreement.

Public-access television[edit]

Main article: Public-access television

In 1969, the FCC issued rules requiring all CATV systems with over 3,500 subscribers to have facilities for local origination of programming by April 1, 1971; the date was later suspended. In 1972, Dean Burch steered the FCC into a new area of regulation. It lifted its restrictions on CATV in large cities, but now put the burden of more local programming on CATV operators. In 1976, the FCC used its rule-making power to require that new systems now had to have 20 channels, and that cable providers with systems of 3,500 subscribers or more had to provide Public, educational, and government access (PEG) services with facilities and equipment necessary to use this channel capacity.

During the early 1980s, various live local programs with local interests were rapidly being created all over the United States in most major television markets. Before there was public access TV, one of Time Inc.'s pioneering stations was in Columbus, Ohio, where Richard Sillman became the nation's youngest cable television director at age 16.[15]


Basic cable[edit]

For the South Park episode, see Basic Cable (South Park).

See also: United States cable news

Cable television programming is often divided between basic and premium television. Basic cable networks are generally those with wide carriage on the lowest service tiers of multichannel television providers. In the era of analog cable television, these channels were typically transmitted without any encryption or other scrambling methods. These networks can vary in format, ranging from those targeting mainstream audiences, to specialty networks that are focused on specific genres, demographics, or niches. Basic cable networks depend on a mix of per-subscriber carriage fees paid by the provider, and revenue from advertising sold on the service, as their sources of revenue.

One of the first "basic cable" networks was TBS—which was initially established as a satellite uplink of an independent television station (the present-day WPCH-TV) in Atlanta, Georgia. TBS would serve as the starting point for other major basic cable ventures by its owner, Ted Turner, including CNN—the first 24-hour news channel. Another early network was the CBN Satellite Service, a Christian television service launched by televangelistPat Robertson in April 1977 as the television ministry of his Christian Broadcasting Network, that was delivered by satellite as a more efficient way to distribute the programming. For years, the CBN Satellite Service (later renamed CBN Cable Network in 1984) mixed religious programming with reruns of classic television series to fill out its 24-hour schedule. The network changed its name to The CBN Family Channel in 1988 (revised to The Family Channel in 1990 once CBN spun it out to an indirectly-owned for-profit company, International Family Entertainment). It was subsequently renamed Fox Family in 1998 after it was acquired by a partnership between Fox Entertainment Group and Saban Entertainment, then ABC Family after its 2001 sale to ABC parent The Walt Disney Company, and finally to its current name, Freeform in 2016.[16]

Premium cable[edit]

The origins of premium cable lie in two areas: early pay television systems of the 1950s and 1960s and early cable (CATV) operators' small efforts to add extra channels to their systems that were not derived from free-to-air signals. In more recent years, premium cable refers to networks–such as Home Box Office (HBO), Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Flix, Starz, MoviePlex, and Epix–that scramble or encrypt their signals so that only those paying additional monthly fees to their cable system can legally view them (via the use of a converter box). Because their programming is commercial-free (except for promotions in-between shows for the networks' own content), these networks command much higher fees from cable systems. Premium services have the discretion to offer the service unencrypted to a certain number of participating cable providers during a short-term free preview period to allow those who do not receive a premium service to sample its programming, in an effort for subscribers to the participant provider to consider obtaining a subscription to the offered service to continue viewing it following the preview period.

HBO was the first true premium cable (or "pay-cable") network as well as the first television network intended for cable distribution on a regional or national basis; however, there were notable precursors to premium cable in the pay-television industry that operated during the 1950s and 1960s (with a few systems lingering until 1980), as well as some attempts by free-the-air broadcasters during the 1970s and 1980s that ultimately folded as their subscriber bases declined amid viewer shifts to receiving premium television content delivered by cable providers that had begun operating in metropolitan areas throughout that period. In its infancy, following its launch over Service Electric Cable's Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, system on November 8, 1972, HBO had been quietly providing pay programming to CATV systems in Pennsylvania and New York, using microwave technology to transmit its programming to cable and MMDS providers. In 1975, HBO became the first cable network to be delivered nationwide by satellite transmission. Although such conversions are rare, some present-day basic cable channels have originated as premium services, including the Disney Channel (from 1983 to 1997), AMC (from 1984 to 1988) and Bravo (from 1982 to 1994); some of these services eventually switched to an advertiser-supported model after transitioning to an unencrypted structure. Other fledgling premium services (such as early HBO spin-off efforts Take Two and Festival, Home Theater Network and Spotlight) have lasted for a few years, only to fail due to the inability to compete against established premium services that had broader distribution and higher subscriber totals.

Since cable television channels are not broadcast on public spectrum, they are not subject to FCC regulations on indecent material. Premium networks generally offer broader portrayal of profanity, sex and violence; some premium services–such as Cinemax and The Movie Channel (which have carried such programs as part of their late-night schedules) as well as Playboy TV, one of the first adult-oriented premium cable services–have even offered softcore pornography as part of their programming inventory.

While there are no FCC rules that apply to content on basic cable networks, many self-regulate their program content due to demographic targeting, or because of viewer and advertiser expectations, particularly with regard to profane language and nudity. In recent years, however, some networks have become more lenient towards content aired during late-primetime and late-night hours. In addition, some channels, such as FX, have positioned themselves with an original programming direction more akin to premium services, with a focus on more "mature" and creator-driven series to help attract critical acclaim and key demographic viewership.[17][18]Turner Classic Movies has also aired uncut prints of theatrical films that have featured nudity, sexual content, violence and profanity, as had the now-ad-supported SundanceTV and IFC, the former of which began as a premium service, spun off from Showtime. Commercial-free basic channels have tended to rate their film presentations using the TV Parental Guidelines, instead of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings system.

À la carte cable[edit]

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This section's factual accuracy may be compromised due to out-of-date information. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(May 2010)

See also: A la carte cable television

Since the early 21st century, some have advocated for laws that would require cable providers to offer their subscribers their own "à la carte" choice of channels.[19] Unlike the standardized subscription packages being offered currently, an à la carte model requires the customer to subscribe to each channel individually. It is not clear how this might affect subscription costs over all, but it would allow a parent to censor their child's viewing habits by removing any channel they deem objectionable from their subscription. Offering such individualized subscriptions would have been relatively complicated and labor-intensive using analog cable, but the widespread adoption of digital cable & IPTV technologies have now made it more feasible.

Analog technology allowed cable providers to offer standardized subscription packages using low-pass filters and notch filters. A low-pass filter lets lower frequency signals pass while removing higher frequency signals. Using such filtering, the cable provider offered "economy basic" subscriptions (local channels only- these appear at the lowest frequency signals, denoted by the lowest channel numbers) and "basic" subscriptions (local channels plus a handful of national channels with frequencies just higher than the local stations). Notch filters were used to filter out a "notch" of channels from an analog cable signal (for example, channels 45-50 could be "notched" out and the subscriber still receives channels below 45 and above 50). This allowed cable providers to open standardized ranges of premium channels to the subscriber, but notch filtering was not a feasible way to offer each subscriber their own individual choice of channels.

To offer "à la carte" service using an analog signal, a cable provider would most likely have to scramble every channel and send a technician to each subscriber's home to unscramble their choice of channels on their set-top box. Each change an analog cable customer made in their subscription would then require an additional home visit to reprogram their set-top box. Offering the customer their choice of channels à la carte has become more cost-effective with the advent of digital cable, because a digital set-top converter box can be programmed remotely. IPTV (i.e., delivering TV channels over an internet or IP-based network) is even less labor-intensive, delivering channels to the consumer automatically.

Currently, digital cable and satellite delivery systems with standardized subscriptions are providing an opportunity for networks that service niche and minority audiences to reach millions of households, and potentially, millions of viewers. Since à la carte could force each channel to be sold individually, such networks worry they could face a significant reduction in subscription fees and advertising revenue, and potentially be driven out of business. Many cable/satellite providers are therefore reluctant to introduce an à la carte business model. They fear it will reduce the overall choice of viewing content, making their service less appealing to customers. Some believe the à la carte option could actually increase overall sales by allowing potential subscribers a less expensive entry point into the cable marketplace. Some cable/satellite providers might wish to sell channels à la carte, but their contracts with programmers often require the more standardized approach.[20]

Digital cable[edit]

Main article: Digital cable

Starting in the late 1990s, advances in digital signal processing (primarily Motorola's DigiCipher 2video compression technology in North America) gave rise to wider implementation of digital cable services. Digital cable television provides many more television channels over the same available bandwidth, by converting cable channels to a digital signal and then compressing the signal. Currently, most systems offer a hybrid analog/digital cable system. This means they offer a certain number of analog channels via their basic cable service with additional channels being made available via their digital cable service.

Digital cable channels are touted as being able to offer a higher quality picture than their analog counterparts. This is often true, with a dramatic improvement in chroma resolution (120 lines for NTSC versus 270 for digital). However, digital compression has a tendency to soften the quality of the television picture, particularly of channels that are more heavily compressed. Pixelation and other artifacts are often visible.

Set-top boxes[edit]

Further information: Cable converter box

Subscribers wishing to have access to digital cable channels must have a special cable converter box, (or, more recently, a "Digital Cable Ready" television) and a CableCARD to receive them. AllVid is a CableCARD replacement proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), U.S.A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), intended to provide bidirectional compatibilities such as interactive programming guides, video-on-demand and pay-per-view, since retail CableCARD-ready devices are unable to access such systems.[21][22][23]

Cable television fees and programming lineups[edit]

Cable television systems impose a monthly fee depending on the number and perceived quality of the channels offered. Cable television subscribers are offered various packages of channels one can subscribe to. The cost of each package depends on the type of channels offered (basic vs. premium) and the quantity. These fees cover the fees paid to individual cable channels for the right to carry their programming, as well as the cost of operating and maintaining the cable television system so that their signals can reach subscribers' homes. Additional cable television franchise fees and taxes are often tacked on by local, state, and federal governments.

Most cable systems divide their channel lineups ("tiers") into three or four basic channel packages. A must-carry rule requires all cable television systems to carry all full-power local commercial broadcast stations in the designated television market on their lineups, unless those stations opt to invoke retransmission consent and demand compensation, in which case the cable provider can decline to carry the channel (especially if the provider feels that the rate of carrying an existing service would result in an increase of the average price of a tier to levels to which it could result in a subscriber possibly dropping the service).

Cable television systems are also required to offer a subscription package that provides these broadcast channels at a lower rate than the standard subscription rate. The basic programming package offered by cable television systems is usually known as "basic cable" and provides access to a large number of cable television channels, as well as broadcast television networks (e.g., ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, NBC, PBS), public, educational, and government access channels, free or low-cost public service channels such as C-SPAN and NASA TV, and several channels devoted to infomercials, brokeredtelevangelism and home shopping to defray costs. Some providers may provide a small number of national cable networks in their basic lineups. Most systems differentiate between basic cable, which has locals, home shopping channels and local-access television channels, and expanded basic (or "standard"), which carries most of the better-known national cable networks. Most basic cable lineups have approximately 20 channels overall, while expanded basic has channel capacity for as many as 70 channels. Under U.S. regulations, the price of basic cable can be regulated by local authorities as part of their franchise agreements. Standard, or expanded basic, cable is not subject to price controls.

In addition to the basic cable packages, all systems offer premium channel add-on packages offering either just one premium network (for example, HBO) or several premium networks for one price (for example, HBO and Showtime together). Finally, most cable systems offer pay-per-view channels where users can watch individual movies, live events, sports and other programs for an additional fee for single viewing at a scheduled time (this is generally the main place where pornographic content airs on American cable). Some cable systems have begun to offer on-demand programming, where customers can select programs from a list of offerings including recent releases of movies, concerts, sports, first-run television shows and specials and start the program whenever they wish, as if they were watching a DVD or a VHS tape (although some on demand services, generally those offered by broadcast networks, restrict the ability to fast forward through a program). Some of the offerings have a cost similar to renting a movie at a video store while others are free. On-demand content has slowly been replacing traditional pay-per-view for pre-recorded content; pay-per-view remains popular for live combat sports events (boxing, mixed martial arts and professional wrestling).

Additional subscription fees are also usually required to receive digital cable channels.

Many cable systems operate as de facto monopolies in the United States. While exclusive franchises are currently prohibited by federal law, and relatively few franchises were ever expressly exclusive, frequently only one cable company offers cable service in a given community.[24]Overbuilders in the U.S., other than telephone companies with existing infrastructure, have traditionally had severe difficulty in financial and market penetration numbers. Overbuilders have had some success in the MDU market, in which relationships are established with landlords, sometimes with contracts and exclusivity agreements for the buildings, sometimes to the anger of tenants. The rise of direct broadcast satellite systems providing the same type of programming using small satellite receivers, and of Verizon FiOS and other recent ventures by incumbent local exchange carriers such as U-verse, have also provided competition to incumbent cable television systems.

Subscriber fees[edit]

Main article: Retransmission consent

Many cable channels charge cable providers "subscriber fees," in order to carry their content. The fee that the cable service provider must pay to a cable television channel can vary depending on whether it is a basic or premium channel and the perceived popularity of that channel. Because cable service providers are not required to carry all cable channels, they may negotiate the fee they will pay for carrying a channel. Typically, more popular cable channels command higher fees. For example, ESPN typically charges $10 per month for its suite of networks ($7 for the main channel alone), by far the highest of any non-premium American cable channel, comparable to the premium channels, and rising rapidly.[25] Other widely viewed cable channels have been able to command fees of over 50 cents per subscriber per month; channels can vary widely in fees depending on if they are included in package deals with other channels.


Year Cable TV subscribers Telephone company TV subscribers
Dec. 199051,700,000[26]
Dec. 199153,400,000[26]
Dec. 199255,200,000[26]
Dec. 199357,200,000[26]
Dec. 199459,700,000[26]
Dec. 199562,100,000[26]
Dec. 199663,500,000[5]
Dec. 199764,900,000[5]
Dec. 199866,100,000[5]
Dec. 199967,300,000[5]
Dec. 200068,500,000[5]
Jun. 200166,732,000[27]
Jun. 200266,472,000[27]
Jun. 200366,050,000[27]
Jun. 200466,100,000[27]
Jun. 200565,400,000[28]
Jun. 200665,300,000[28]
Dec. 200665,400,000[29]300,000[29]
Dec. 200764,900,000[29]1,300,000[29]
Dec. 200863,700,000[29]3,100,000[29]
Dec. 200962,100,000[29]5,100,000[29]
Dec. 201059,800,000[30]6,900,000[30]
Dec. 201158,000,000[30]8,500,000[30]
Dec. 201256,400,000[6]9,900,000[6]
Dec. 201354,400,000[6]11,300,000[6]
Dec. 201453,700,000[31]13,200,000[31]
Dec. 201553,223,000[32]13,041,000[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ab"History of Cable Television". National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Archived from the original on 2010-09-05. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  2. ^"History of Cable - CCTA". California Cable & Telecommunications Association. Retrieved May 19, 2021.
  3. ^"The Rise of Cable Television". Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  4. ^ ab"SNL Kagan U.S. Cable TV Summary Data". Marketing Charts. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  5. ^ abcdef"8th Annual Video Competition Report". Federal Communications Commission. 14 Jan 2002. p. 87. Retrieved 29 Mar 2015.
  6. ^ abcdef"16th Report On Video Competition". Federal Communications Commission. 31 Mar 2015. Retrieved 26 Apr 2015.
  7. ^ abKennedy, Sam (4 March 2007). "Cable TV invented in Mahanoy City". The Morning Call. Allentown, PA.
  8. ^Parsons, Patrick R. (1996). "Two tales of a city: John Walson, Sr., Mahanoy city, and the "founding"; of cable TV". Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 40 (3): 354–365. doi:10.1080/08838159609364358.
  9. ^Sullivan, Bob. "Cable TV: King of misleading come-ons." NBC News. January 28, 2008. Retrieved on January 29, 2008. Web page excerpted from GOTCHA CAPITALISM by Bob Sullivan. Copyright (c) 2007 by BobSullivan. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.
  10. ^"Leroy E. "Ed" Parsons Collection". The Cable Center. Archived from the original on 2008-04-13. Retrieved April 28, 2009.
  11. ^"Past Cable Hall of Fame Honorees". The Cable Center. Archived from the original on 12 March 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  12. ^Hodgins, Eric (1957-06-10). "Amid Ruins of an Empire a New Hollywood Arises". Life. p. 146. Retrieved April 22, 2012.
  13. ^Massey, Kimberly. "Freeze of 1948". Museum of Broadcast Television. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  14. ^"Cable Pioneer Yolanda Barco Dies at 74." Multichannel News, 6/12/2000, p. 16
  15. ^Media Management in the Age of Giants, Business Dynamics of Journalism. Iowa State University Press, first edition 2003. Second edition, University of New Mexico Press, 2012. 2012. ISBN . Retrieved 2013-05-13.
  16. ^Mullen, Megan. The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States: Revolution or Evolution? Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.
  17. ^Chozick, Amy; Carter, Bill (2012-03-26). "FX Rides Risky Series to a Big Reward". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-10-05.
  18. ^Holloway, Daniel (2019-06-11). "How FX Chief John Landgraf Built One of TV's Hottest Brands". Variety. Retrieved 2019-10-05.
  19. ^Fabrikant, Geraldine. MEDIA; Need ESPN but Not MTV? Some Push for That Option. The New York Times: May 31, 2004.
  20. ^Conda, Cesar V (2006-01-13). "Cable, À La Carte?". National Review. CBS News. Archived from the original on 2008-04-13. Retrieved 2007-07-05.
  21. ^AllVid Notice of Inquiry, 25 FCC Rcd4275 (adopted April 21, 2010)
  22. ^Wolf, Michael (11 February 2014). "Why Big Cable Fears AllVid — and Why It Shouldn't". GigaOM.
  23. ^25 FCC Rcd14657, 14661 (adopted October 14, 2010)
  24. ^Goodale, James C., and Frieden, Rob. All About Cable and Broadband. Law Journal Press, 2010, sec. 4.02[1], p. 4-7 & note 9, and sec. 4.02[4], pp. 4-28 and 4-29. The federal prohibition is found at 47 U.S.C. sec. 541(a)(1).
  25. ^Nocera, Joe (April 28, 2017). "ESPN Can't Afford to Go On Like This". Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  26. ^ abcdef"4th Annual Video Competition Report". United States Federal Communications Commission. 13 Jan 1998. p. 142. Retrieved 29 Mar 2015.
  27. ^ abcd"11th Annual Video Competition Report". Federal Communications Commission. 4 Feb 2005. p. 115. Retrieved 29 Mar 2015.
  28. ^ ab"13th Annual Video Competition Report". Federal Communications Commission. 16 Jan 2009. p. 143. Retrieved 29 Mar 2015.
  29. ^ abcdefgh"FCC Releases 14th Video Competition Report". Federal Communications Commission. 20 Jul 2012. p. 60. Retrieved 29 Mar 2015.
  30. ^ abcd"15th Report On Video Competition". Federal Communications Commission. 22 Jul 2013. p. 61. Retrieved 29 Mar 2015.
  31. ^ ab"17th Report On Video Competition"(PDF). Federal Communications Commission. 6 May 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  32. ^ ab"18th Report On Video Competition"(PDF). Federal Communications Commission. 17 January 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Caruso, Thomas P and Mark R Harsch. "Joint Ventures in the Cable and Videotex Industries". Masters' Thesis in Management, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Jun 1984.
  • Eisenmann, Thomas R., "Cable TV: From Community Antennas to Wired Cities", Harvard Business School Weekly Newsletter, July 10, 2000
  • Lockman, Brian and Dan Sarvey. Pioneers of Cable Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005.
  • Moss, Mitchell L.; Payne, Frances, "Can Cable Keep Its Promise?", New York Affairs, Volume 6, Number 4. New York University. 1981
  • Mullen, Megan. The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States: Revolution or Evolution? Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003.
  • Mullen, Megan. Television in the Multichannel Age: A Brief History of Cable Television. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.
  • Parsons, Patrick R. Blue Skies: A History of Cable Television. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2008.
  • Parsons, Patrick R and Robert M. Frieden. The Cable and Satellite Television Industries. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1998.
  • Smith, Ralph Lee, "The Wired Nation", The Nation magazine, May 18, 1970
  • Smith, Ralph Lee, The Wired Nation; Cable TV: the electronic communications highway. New York, Harper & Row, 1972. ISBN 0-06-090243-4
  • Southwick, Thomas P. Distant Signals: How Cable TV Changed the World of Telecommunications. Overland Park, KS: Primedia Intertec, 1998.

External links[edit]


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