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|Launch date||December 1994|
|Status||Discontinued on July 31, 1998|
Sega Channel was an online game service developed by Sega for the Sega Genesis video game console, serving as a content delivery system. Starting in December 1994, Sega Channel was provided to the public by Time Warner Cable and TCI through cable television services by way of coaxial cable. It was a pay to play service, through which customers could access Genesis games online, play game demos, and get cheat codes. Lasting until July 31, 1998, Sega Channel operated three years after the release of Sega's next generation console, the Sega Saturn. Though criticized for its poorly timed launch and high subscription fee, Sega Channel has been praised for its innovations in downloadable content, impacts on online services for video games, and effects on the cable television industry.
Released in Japan as the Mega Drive in 1988, North America in 1989, and Europe and other regions as the Mega Drive in 1990, the Sega Genesis was Sega's entry into the 16-bit era of video game consoles. In 1990, Sega started their first Internet-based service for the console, Sega Meganet, in Japan. Operating through a cartridge and a peripheral called the "Mega Modem", this system allowed Mega Drive players to play seventeen games online. A North American version of this system, dubbed "Tele-Genesis", was announced but never released. Another phone-based system, the Mega Anser, turned the Japanese Mega Drive into an online banking terminal. Due to Meganet's low number of titles, prohibitively high price, and the Mega Drive's lack of success in Japan, the system proved to be a commercial failure. By 1992, the Mega Modem peripheral could be found in bargain bins at a reduced price, and a remodeled version of the console released in 1993 removed the EXT 9-pin port altogether, preventing the newer model from being connected to the Meganet service.
In April of 1993, Sega announced the Sega Channel service, which would utilize cable television services to deliver content. National testing in the United States for the service began in June, and deployment across the United States began in December, with a complete release in North America in 1994. By June of 1994, Sega Channel had gained a total of 21 cable companies signed up to carry the service.
At its peak, Sega Channel had over 250,000 subscribers. By 1997, the number of subscribers had dropped to 230,000, two years after Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama made the decision to discontinue development on the Genesis and its add-ons, the Sega CD and Sega 32X, in favor of the Sega Saturn. The service was eventually discontinued by July 31, 1998.
Technical aspects and specifications
After making the initial purchase and paying the activation fee, Genesis owners would receive an adapter that would be inserted into the cartridge slot of the console. The adapter connected the console to a cable television wire, doing so by the use of a coaxial cable output in the rear of the cartridge. Starting up a Genesis console with an active Sega Channel adapter installed would prompt for the service's main menu to be loaded, which was a process that took approximately 30 seconds. From there, gamers could access the content they wished to play and download it into their system, which could take up to a few minutes per game. This data would be downloaded into the Genesis' RAM, and would be erased when the system was powered off.
Programming and transmission of the Sega Channel's monthly services started with a production team at Sega, which would put together content every month and load it onto a CD-ROM. It was then sent to a satellite station, located in Denver, Colorado. From the station, the signal was transmitted via a Galaxy 7 satellite, which uploaded at 1.435 GHz and downloaded at 1.1 GHz, to the local cable providers. In Canada and across South America and Europe, however, the satellite transmission stage was bypassed altogether in favor of direct uploads of the Sega Channel CD-ROM via a cable television headend. In order for the signal to function properly, it had to be clear of noise in order to prevent download interruptions. To ensure no issues, cable providers had to "clean" their broadcast signal.
Reception and legacy
During its lifetime, Sega Channel won one of Popular Science's "Best of What's New" award for the year 1994. Likewise, in August 1995, a survey conducted by Sports Illustrated found that kids between 9 and 13 years old were five times more likely to subscribe to Sega Channel than to purchase a Sega Saturn or the upcoming Nintendo 64 or PlayStation. The service would go on to garner as many as 250,000 subscribers; however, Sega had anticipated having over one million subscribers by the end of its first year, and had been made available to over 20 million households.
- Atari 2600's GameLine
- Intellivision's PlayCable
- Nintendo Entertainment System's Famicom Modem and Teleplay Modem
- Super Famicom's Satellaview
- Retro Gamer staff (2006). "Retroinspection: Mega Drive". Retro Gamer (Imagine Publishing) (27): 42–47.
- Redsell, Adam (2012-05-20). "SEGA: A Soothsayer of the Game Industry". IGN. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
- Horowitz, Ken (2006-11-10). "Disconnected: The TeleGenesis Modem". Sega-16. Retrieved 2013-12-04.
- Sega Service Manual: Genesis II/Mega Drive II. Sega Enterprises, Ltd. 1993.
- McCash, Vicki (1993-04-28). "Sega Channel To Offer Games Via Cable TV". Broward and Palm Beach Sun Sentinel. Retrieved 2013-12-09.
- Horowitz, Ken (2004-12-21). "Sega Channel: The First Real Downloadable Content". Sega-16. Retrieved 2013-12-06.
- Buchanan, Levi (2008-06-11). "The Sega Channel". IGN. Retrieved 2013-12-08.
- "Sega Channel Is Expanding". The New York Times. 1994-07-12. Retrieved 2013-12-08.
- Johnston, Chris (1997-03-30). "Sega Channel Looks to Bring On-Demand Gaming to PC". GameSpot. Retrieved 2013-12-09.
- Redsell, Adam (2012-05-20). "Sega: A Soothsayer of the Games Industry". IGN. Retrieved 2013-12-06.
- "Sega Channel: How It Works". Sega Enterprises, Ltd. Archived from the original on 1997-06-05. Retrieved 2013-12-08.
- Archive.org - Archive of the Sega Channel official homepage
- Business Wire - Sega Channel Cited by "Popular Science" as Among 1994's Outstanding Products and Technological Achievements
- Sega Channel: The First Real "Downloadable" Content - Article on the history of the service
- Sega Channel Developer Information - An article that shows the Sega Channel Adapter's developers both HW and FW.