So much for the technical detail. A summary of some countries' subscription options, as far as I know them: Britain
As mentioned above, the case of Britain is pretty straightforward because of Sky's total monopoly on satellite subscription channels. These are all sent from a single satellite, Astra 2, and are encoded in the Videoguard system. There are no CAMs made for Videoguard, since Sky owns this systems, and is not going to allow any CAMs to be made. The only way to watch Sky channels is through an 'approved' receiver, a 'Digibox' (made by different companies, but almost identical inside). This is so closely linked to Sky and Astra 2 that, while you can point it at other satellites with open channels, you will have to do some hand-on manipulation to get it done; it is not meant for this. (Sky has earlier had an analogue package on Astra 1, the last few channels in this is closing down during the summer of 2001.) -- The options are basically whether to take out a Sky package, or only watch the 'free' BBC and other non-Sky channels. These are also encoded and on Astra 2, thus for like Sky for UK residents only, but can be received by Britons with a Sky-less subscription card. Scandinavia
Moving north-east, to the region I have personal experience with, and which is also a good example of a competitive situation with many pitfalls.
There are two major subscription packages in Scandinavia; Viasat (with the channels TV3, TV1000, and about twenty others), and Canal Digital (with Canal+, and a selection of English-language channels, about 35 in all). Both are sold in all three Scandinavian countries, and both are terminating their earlier analogue transmissions around the summer of 2001, but there the similarity ends. Viasat, based in Sweden, transmits over the Sirius satellite, and is encrypted in the Viaccess encoding system. Canal Digital transmits over the Thor satellite, and uses Conax for subscription encoding. As it happens, both packages have channels that are considered 'basic' for many viewers in all countries; Viasat has three national variants of TV3, while Canal D has more of the public channels (NRK, Danish and Swedish national TV) on their card. Thus, many viewers will want to subscribe to both packages. In order to do so, then, they must get a receiver which can take both Viaccess and Conax encryptions. As no receiver has both these systems integrated, they must thus have a receiver with at least one CI slot for an externally purchased CAM module with the 'other' decoder card.
The two companies currently pursue different policies in this regard, and in the case of Viasat, they even vary their policies according to country:
Canal D supports a MediaHighway-based receiver which has a free CI module, and appears not to have any problems with customers installing Viaccess CAMs in the free slot (although they do not help them doing so. Some of their supported receivers still lack the software bit needed to recognize a Viaccess CAM). As for their own Conax CAMs and subscription cards, they also do not hamper their sale to users with Viasat-based receivers.
Viasat is much more restrictive. While Viacces CAMs as such are readily available (it is a common encoding system), Viasat in Denmark and Sweden refuse to sell subscriptions to anyone who does not have a receiver 'approved' by them. The list of 'approved' receivers is not long; the requirement is that it runs their OpenTV operating system. Thus, in these countries you can only get both subscription packages by buying an OpenTV, Viasat-based receiver with an empty CI (some, but not all of the approved receivers do have such a slot), and put a Conax CAM and Canal D card in that. You cannot run Canal D's software (and thus their interactive services and program guide) and receive Viasat channels. - In Norway, this is not the case, here Viasat does sell subscriptions also to 'non-approved' receivers. There is no explanation for this difference, possibly due to different commercial placement (the more dominant in the market, the more restrictive), but it makes a noticeable difference for the prospective purchaser.
This is the situation as of early 2001. Negotiations are underway to ameliorate this situation, which can limit market choice severely, and plans are made to make both packages conform to a unified European standard for operating systems, MHP (Multimedia Home Platform), which would then replace the current Open TV and MediaHighway systems. However, currently this seems to run counter to the commercial strategies of the two companies competing for a dominance in the market, so it is uncertain if or when this may become a reality.
The unity of the Scandinavian market is not complete: While many of the channels are available in all three countries in the same form, some with different optional soundtracks and subtitles, some channels are only available within the native country. Thus neither package is identical from country to country. The national state-run or private channels are cases in point; the Norwegian NRK and Swedish SR are only available to subscribers within each country, while the Danish DR can be subscribed to by the other nationals as an (expensive) extra on the Canal D card. A policy made by the governments in the 1980s of making all public channels viewable throughout the region over satellite has thus not become a reality.
My hands-on experience is limited to Scandinavia, but a scan of channel listings seems to reveal the following pattern of subscription packages for other European countries. -- I do not have details of how subscription politics go in each country; but a fierce competition for dominance which has consequences for the technical solutions offered is certainly the case virtually everywhere. France has three major subscription packages:
The TPS package contains about 40 channels, and is transmitted from the Hotbird satellite. It is owned or dominated by the TF1 ('France 1') channel.
Canal Satellite is run by the media behemoth Canal +, and is transmitted from Astra 1. It contains between 40 and 50 channels.
TPS uses theViaccess encoding system, (which is, I believe, it created), Canal+ uses Mediaguard, (SECA) but is also listed in Viaccess. How far this allows French viewers to use the same CAM/decoder slot for both, I do not know.
The third and smallest package, AB Sat with about 15 channels, also uses the Mediaguard system and interestingly transmit both from Astra 1 and Hotbird, the only case found of a 'split-satellite' solution.
Canal + also has a Spanish package, Canal Satellite, like its French and Dutch counterparts transmitted from Astra 1; with Mediaguard encoding. It contains about 30-40 channels. Two other Spanish packages transmit from the Spanish-only satellite Hispasat, at 30 deg. East. Both use the Nagravision system (a name known also from analogue encoding, but here thus in digital): ViaDigital is the largest, with some 40 channels, while Mulitcanal has a handful.
One would not think that Germany, with its large number of free channels, had room for much subscription TV. But in fact, the Premiere package contains some 50 channels, transmitted from Astra 1. It uses Irdeto, one of the most common European encoding systems. Two smaller German-language packages seem to be intended for the neighbouring countries. Austrian ORF sends about a dozen channels, apparently mostly regional variants of the public channel, in Cryptoworks encoding. RTL has many free channels, but also a small package, also in Cryptoworks, for Switzerland and Austria. Both of these are of course also on Astra 1, the German satellite par excellence.
Holland and Belgium, small, mountain-less and well cabled, have traditionally not had much need for satellite transmission. But Canal + runs a subscription package, Canal Digitaal, from Astra 1 with some fifteen channels in Irdeto encoding. Greece
Three Greek packages are registered, all from Hotbird, and each with between 10 and 20 channels. Two of them, Nova (the largest) and Multichoice are encoded in Irdeto, the third, OTE in Videoguard. Italy
Italy sports two fairly large packages with 40-50 channels each, both from Hotbird, but with different encoding systems. D+ uses Mediaguard, Stream uses Irdeto. Poland
A total of four subscrption packages seem intended for the Polish market, but only one them (Cyfra Plus) is listed with more than ten channels. It alone uses Mediaguard, and transmits from Hotbird. So do Polsat and TVP, both sending in Nagravision. Wizja sends from Astra, using Cryptoworks. TVP also duplicates some of its channelson the Eutelsat W 3 satellite, listed in NDS encoding. This is not a complete list of channels. There is one Russian package (NTV, 4 channels) and one Arabic (Arabesque, 10 channels), both on Hotbird; and many smaller packages, sometimes with mixed-language channels (many of the using the PowerVu system). Also, channels come and go almost on a daily basis, so the survey above must only be seen as a very approximate enumeration.
It should however give an impression of the situation in early 2001, and shows the variety of organization in the different countries, some using similar systems, indicating some level of standardization in those countries; other going like the Scandinavians to war with opposing and incompatible systems, forcing the customers either to choose, or at least to adapt to their different exigencies.
The kind of channels you can find within each package will vary widely, according to each country. Some may only be encoded for distribution restrictions. However, most of the larger packages will contain mixtures of entertainment, documentaries, and often with film channels as option extras. Many of these also duplicate common European or English-language channels like Eurosport, Discovery, BBC World and BBC Prime, MTV and even CNN and other otherwise open channels, within their packages (sometimes with local language adaptations as well as local advertisements) for easier convenience for their subscribers (thus, in my Scandinavian case, both packages include BBC World, Hallmark, Nickelodeon, MTV and VH-1, while only one has CNN, Eurosport, CNBC and BBC Prime).