Pay television, also known as subscription television or premium television, refers to subscription-based television services, usually provided by multichannel television providers, but also increasingly via digital terrestrial, and streaming television. In the United States, subscription television began in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the form of encrypted analog over-the-air broadcast television which could be decrypted with special equipment. The concept rapidly expanded through the multi-channel transition and into the post-network era. Other parts of the world beyond the United States, such as France and Latin America have also offered encrypted analog terrestrial signals available for subscription.
The term is most synonymous with premium entertainment services focused on films or general entertainment programming such as, in the United States, Cinemax, Epix, HBO, Showtime, and Starz, but such services can also include those devoted to sports, as well as adult entertainment.
"Free" variants are free-to-air (FTA) and free-to-view (FTV); however, FTV services are normally encrypted and decryption cards either
"Free" variants are free-to-air (FTA) and free-to-view (FTV); however, FTV services are normally encrypted and decryption cards either come as part of an initial subscription to a pay television bouquet – in other words, an offer of pay-TV channels – or can be purchased for a one-time cost. FTA and FTV systems may still have selective access. Australia Plus is one example, as much of its programming content is free-to-air except for National Rugby League (NRL) games, which are encrypted.