Direct broadcast satellite, or DBS, is a relatively recent development in the world of television distribution. "Direct broadcast satellite" can either refer to the communications satellites themselves that deliver DBS service or the actual television service. DBS systems are commonly referred to as "minidish" systems.

The first commercial DBS service, Sky Television, was launched in 1989. Sky TV originated as a four-channel service on the Astra satellite. Sky TV is a European DBS service and is now owned by News Corporation.

Hughes Electronics' DirecTV, the first high-powered DBS system, went online in 1994 and was the first North American DBS service. DirecTV's main competition was the now-defunct PrimeStar service, a DBS service that used larger 3 foot (91 cm) satellite dishes to receive medium-power Ku-Band satellite signals. At the time, DirecTV's introduction was the most successful consumer electronics debut in American history. In 1996, Echostar's DISH Network went online in the United States and went on to similar success as DirecTV's primary competitor. Echostar attempted to buy DirecTV but this was rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice based upon monopoly concerns. Hughes is controlled by News Corporation and its chairman, Rupert Murdoch. News also owns the Fox TV and 20th Century Fox studios.

In addition there are dozens of satellite television stations that broadcast to specialized ethnic communities.

DBS uses special high powered Ku-Band satellites that send digitally compressed television and audio signals to 18- to 24-inch (45 to 60 cm) fixed satellite dishes. DBS systems transmit signals to Earth in what is called the Broadcast Satellite Service (BSS) portion of the Ku-Band between 12.2 and 12.7 GHz. Thanks to digital compression technologies, DBS systems can deliver hundreds of cable TV-style programming channels, as well as local network television affiliates.