Sat TV in a Box

Stephen DeAngelis

January 10, 2007

This is an interesting time of year — with new electronic gadgets being introduced in Las Vegas and new concept cars being revealed in Detroit. Lorne Manley, writing in the New York Times, talks about a new portable satellite television that was developed by Rick Rosner, the man who brought you CHiPs and The New Hollywood Squares [“Satellite Television in a Portable Box,” 8 January 2007].

“Rick Rosner is a self-described television junkie. … When more than a decade ago he moved into his previous home, in Coldwater Canyon, only to learn he could not pick up a cable signal, he dispatched a production assistant to Phoenix to get something not yet available on the West Coast: DirecTV. On location shoots he would lug one of his DirecTV set-top boxes along and then rent or buy a satellite dish and attach it to his balcony railing with duct tape. That hassle got him thinking: What if there were a portable satellite dish, which folds up like a piece of luggage, and could be used for camping and tailgate parties or in dorm rooms? And that’s how a longtime television producer turned into an inventor. The result of his obsessive handiwork will be on display today at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, when DirecTV will unveil the Sat-Go, a mobile satellite and television system weighing about 25 pounds that will sell for $1,000 to $1,300. DirecTV hopes that the Sat-Go will help differentiate the company from its cable-television competition and attract a different type of customer when the product goes on sale this spring.”

A lot of innovations are the result of someone with a passion asking questions about things that others either put up with  or never wonder about. Often the result causes people to slap their foreheads and ask, “Why didn’t I think of that?” There is a big difference, however, between ideas and innovations. Ideas without actions are simply dreams and never result in that “head thumping” moment. Innovations are ideas in action. All innovators know that the path between idea and innovation is a difficult and often long one. Rosner’s innovation was no different — although he did start with some advantages (specifically, money, contacts, and a reputation).

“After getting his inspiration for Sat-Go during an early morning walk in Vancouver, he hooked up with David Kuether, a friend who was an engineer at DirecTV, and the two set out to build a mobile satellite TV. Mr. Rosner then called in a favor from another friend, his former art director on ‘The New Hollywood Squares’ who is now the head of ‘The Tonight Show’s’ prop shop. They built a prototype — ‘it looked like a big sewing machine,’ he said — and then tried to persuade DirecTV to build and sell it. At first, they were greeted with a decided lack of interest. But the head of the set-top box division sent Mr. Rosner and his contraption to see Eric Shanks, executive vice president of DirecTV Entertainment. Luckily for Mr. Rosner, Mr. Shanks was a ‘CHiPs’ fanatic and jumped at the chance to meet its creator. “It’s my second-favorite show,” he said. (‘The A-Team’ is No. 1.)”

Right now the Sat-Go is a toy for the rich that will let them take the tube where it has never gone before, but the possibilities for use around the world to provide information following a catastrophe, conduct information operations, and so forth are bound to be explored as the price of the unit comes down. In fact, Rosner is considering a much sturdier version of the Sat-Go for use in domestic emergencies.

“Mr. Rosner is … helping the company develop different Sat-Go offshoots. The Sat-Go Pro will come in a hardened plastic case and be marketed to users like FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Sat-Go Light will be about half the weight. And Mr. Rosner wants DirecTV to build a version with a digital video-recorder, too.”

Portable satellite televisions will not have the same impact for connecting the world the same way the mobile phone has, but any gadget that helps connect the world is move in the right direction. Steve Jobs recognizes the continuing impact of mobile phones having just introduced the iPod mobile phone.