Captain Midnight (HBO)
Message seen in 1986
|Date||April 27, 1986|
|Participants||John R. MacDougall|
|Outcome||Fine and probation|
John R. MacDougall (born c. 1961), also known as Captain Midnight, is a Florida electronic engineer and business owner who jammed HBO's satellite signal in April 1986 to broadcast a message protesting their rates for satellite dish owners.
In the mid-1980s, controversy erupted in the cable programming world as media companies that owned pay television channels began scrambling their programming and charging fees to home satellite dish owners who accessed the same satellite signals that cable operators received. Many satellite dish owners were forced to purchase descrambling equipment at a cost of hundreds of dollars, in addition to paying monthly or annual subscription fees to cable programming providers. Programming costs for home dish owners were often higher than fees paid by cable subscribers, despite dish owners being responsible for owning and servicing their own equipment.
When HBO scrambled its signal, it offered subscriptions to home dish owners for $12.95 per month, which was either equal to or slightly higher than what cable subscribers paid. Dish owners felt they were being asked to pay a price that was designed to be anti-competitive, and it triggered a national movement among dish owners to more strongly regulate the cable industry and force them to stop anti-competitive pricing. While some dish owners called their elected officials, others took a more direct approach to send a message to the large industry.
On April 27, 1986 at 12:32 a.m. Eastern Time, John R. MacDougall, a satellite television dealer in Ocala, Florida, was working at Central Florida Teleport, a company that uplinks services to satellites. He was overseeing the uplink of the movie Pee-wee's Big Adventure as part of the evening's programming for the now-defunct pay-per-view network People's Choice (which used Central Florida Teleport's facilities). At the end of his shift, he swung the dish back into its storage position, which aimed it at the location of Galaxy 1, the satellite that carried HBO. As a protest against the introduction of high fees and scrambling equipment, he transmitted a signal onto the satellite which overrode HBO's telecast of the movie The Falcon and the Snowman (which had begun two minutes earlier) for 4½ minutes. The text message which appeared on the sets of HBO subscribers across the eastern half of the country read:
FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
NO WAY !
[SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE!]
MacDougall chose the name "Captain Midnight" from a movie he had recently seen, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (not associated with a popular Captain Midnight radio show of the 1940s). After media pressure forced the Federal Communications Commission to act, MacDougall was charged and plea bargained a $5,000 fine and was placed on one year's probation.