Browse through the fascinating history of UPC. It all began in 1931, at which time the company was still called Rediffusion. Over the past decades, the company has certainly proven two things: that it was able to react flexibly to change and was often ahead of its time.
In the early years, UPC was called Rediffusion: a company that entered new business territory and commenced operations in 1932 with three wire broadcasting channels.
Rediffusion S.A. is founded in 1931 in the pioneering years of radio in Switzerland. This lays the foundations for the launch of so-called wire broadcasting in Switzerland and for the company that will one day be called UPC. Rediffusion’s goal is the «redistribution of public radio channels». It is granted a licence by the Federal Post and Railways Department. Rediffusion has to pay a fee of CHF 1.25 to the authority every six months for each subscriber. Rediffusion also requires a separate licence from the municipality before it can lay the cables for its network. It submits a request immediately. Around the same time, a competitor company – Radibus – is established in Switzerland and also applies for a licence. A competitive situation develops between Radibus and Rediffusion. The two companies later enter into an agreement: to prevent competition, they divide the towns up between themselves.
Rediffusion commences wire broadcasting operations on 1 January 1932 with three channels. Programmes are shown daily between 12 noon and 11 pm.
A «foreign channel» (3rd channel slot) shows programmes from Vienna, Rome and Stuttgart – the port concerts broadcast from Hamburg and Bremen on Sunday mornings prove particularly popular.
The first municipalities grant licences, in some cases subject to terms. In Zurich, for example:
Lausanne, Neuchâtel, Vevey, Montreux, Yverdon, Horgen and Davos grant licences and other towns soon follow. Rediffusion rents offices and space for receiving and relay stations at all locations.
The company grows rapidly during this year: at the end of April, 36 employees work for Rediffusion; by October this number has already grown to 70, and by the end of December again to 118. The company fervently orders materials for model plants, relay stations, network construction and customer boxes. Technicians purchase some parts abroad, since they are not yet available in Switzerland.
By the end of 1933 Rediffusion already has 5,500 subscribers. Today, these people would be referred to as «early adopters». As customers, they were prepared to place their trust in a young company, a new medium and a newly established broadcasting technology. Rediffusion enters new business territory and that involves a great deal of work: it has to consult with authorities and provide a lot of information to the public. The amounts of money invested in infrastructure are very large to begin with. The company plans carefully, particularly when the economic crisis hits Switzerland in 1935.
Rediffusion employed nine fitters in 1935
In 1937 Rediffusion organises a boat trip on Lake Zurich for subscribers’ children aged between 6 and 15 for the first time. Some 2000 children sign up. The trip costs 30 centimes and includes an apple and a bread roll. Rediffusion also organises entertainment evenings for subscribers annually in the rooms belonging to Kaufleuten. There are visits to the radio studios in Zurich and to the regional channels in Beromünster and Sottens. Rediffusion also organises lecture and film evenings. Subscribers greatly value such opportunities.
The Second World War has an impact on the Swiss Rediffusion company. But thanks to its improvisational skills it is able to overcome the crisis. In the postwar years, it modernises the network and opens up new fields of business by renting out radio equipment.
When the Second World War breaks out, almost all of Rediffusion’s employees are mobilised. Due to a shortage of staff, Rediffusion is no longer able to publish its magazine, the Rediffusion News, for two years. Like the post office, the railways and the radio authority, Rediffusion is under martial law and its broadcasts are partially censored. The studios are guarded by the military. The war in neighbouring countries has a variety of effects in the years that follow and severely hampers business operations.
Rediffusion has now been around for 10 years. Despite unemployment, crisis and war, some 18,000 subscribers are now connected to the four active cable networks in Zurich, Lausanne, St. Gallen and Biel/Bienne. The number of people employed reaches a high of 275. Technical modernisations lead to a significant improvement in reproduction quality and volume.
The Rediffusion studio in Weinbergstrasse, Zurich
In 1944, the Swiss Confederation lifts the censorship of wire broadcasting again. One year later, the war comes to an end. In Germany, the German radio stations are temporarily silent. The occupying authorities only put them back into operation gradually. Rediffusion closes the gap left by the German channels by temporarily broadcasting studio and record programmes. From autumn, Rediffusion is no longer under martial law. At the end of the year, Rediffusion negotiates a merger with competitor company Radibus. After the merger, Rediffusion has some 33,000 subscribers and this number is increasing all the time.
In the years that follow, Rediffusion modernises the transmission paths, relay stations, connections and receivers. The advanced infrastructure now also allows the technicians to measure numbers of listeners and therefore to optimise the content on this basis. Rediffusion is also the first wire broadcasting institution to broadcast FM radio channels. In 1951, the company celebrates its 20-year anniversary – technological developments have confirmed that wire broadcasting was the right choice. And Rediffusion is already gearing up for the launch of the next innovation: television.
A glimpse into a household of Rediffusion customers in the late 1950s
Rediffusion enters the radio equipment business and rents out radios. It also launches its own radios with the new brand name Resonar. These are the first models to be manufactured in Switzerland with an FM reception range. As well as the wire broadcasting subscribers, Rediffusion now also has customers outside its own network.
Rediffusion enters the radio equipment business
Rediffusion now sells TV sets and begins the first tests for transmitting television signals over the existing network. To begin with, the channels can be received in black and white, and later in colour. New, powerful coaxial cables allow the range of channels to be increased and offer potential for new media.
In 1958, television has already gained a foothold in Switzerland. Rediffusion begins selling television sets. It opens showrooms and retail outlets. In autumn, Rediffusion begins selling its first TV sets, including the «Resonar 21 T 210» model. 200 sets are sold in the first two months!
Rediffusion’s licence is renewed by the Swiss Confederation: now the company is allowed to broadcast six high frequency radio stations and also to launch cable television! The advantage is that Rediffusion can use its existing network for television broadcasting and only needs to upgrade this. First, technicians have to extensively test how well the 30 year-old network can transmit television pictures. In a pioneering operation they connect 260 flats in the city of Zurich. The technicians require not only expertise, but also creativity to get interference-free reception in the households.
In Zurich, Rediffusion officially launches its first cable television offer which includes the transmission of two black and white channels. Other towns soon follow, including Biel/Bienne (1962) and St. Gallen (1963).
News article from 1963 on the launch of cable television in St. Gallen
From 1966 onwards, the cable television offer is gradually increased to six channels. Major television events, such as the Football World Cup in England, give a boost to sales of TV sets. Colour television also continues to establish itself. In the summer of 1969, people hold their breath as they watch the first moon landing.
Rediffusion continues to invest in the development of its infrastructure. Technological innovations make the transition to coaxial cable systems possible. These offer a higher capacity which allows even more channels to be broadcast. And soon afterwards, at the start of the 1970s, Rediffusion introduces bidirectional aerial outlets. These allow signals to be fed back from subscribers’ homes to the control centre – an essential precondition for the subsequent launch of services such as pay TV. This is another important step in the modernisation of the network, the foundations for which were laid 40 years earlier.
The first advert is shown on the DRS television channel. It is for colour television and encourages viewers to visit Rediffusion’s specialist stores. The Redi parrot also appears in an advertising campaign for the first time in these years. By 1975, Rediffusion owns 36 retail outlets where it sells colour televisions, compact hi-fi systems, transistor radios, cassette recorders and accessories. Video recorders also begin to establish themselves and Rediffusion starts selling them.
The Redi parrot represented Rediffusion for many years as the company’s mascot
On the occasion of Rediffusion’s 50-year anniversary, 1300 employees and guests celebrate at a lavish party in Zurich’s Kongresshaus. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of cable television. The coaxial cable networks are now able to transmit 24 television and 30 radio stations. And the progress continues: in the development department, eight employees are working intensively on new media such as on-screen text, local television, satellite television and pay TV. In Zurich’s Zollstrasse, next to the main train station, the groundbreaking ceremony is held for a new company building. Two years later, the company moves in.
Laying of the foundation stone for the company building in Zurich’s Zollstrasse
In spring of 1982, Rediffusion demonstrates the readiness of its ultra-modern satellite reception system at the top of the Üetliberg mountain to the press. This makes international channels more readily accessible to a broader public. Shortly afterwards, Rediffusion launches Teleclub. It is the first subscription television service in the whole of continental Europe! For a monthly rental payment, customers are given a decoder which allows them to receive encrypted Teleclub channels. «Teleziitig» is also launched – the first on-screen newspaper for local news. A specially set-up studio in Leimbach, Zurich is responsible for the programming.
The Teleclub studio in Leimbach, Zurich
The period of purchases and sales: For a short time, Rediffusion and the newly founded Cablecom are competitors. Then Cablecom takes over Rediffusion and its size increases considerably as a result of the acquisition. In addition, Cablecom buys the Internet service provider Swissonline – until Cablecom itself is put up for sale.
The holding company to which Rediffusion also belongs is sold to the French group Alcatel-Alsthom. At the same time, Rediffusion faces competition from cablecom, which is also newly established in this year.
Logo of the newly established Cablecom
The Swiss telecommunications market is dynamic. Just two years later, Alcatel wants to sell Rediffusion again. There is a bidding procedure. The new player on the market, cablecom, takes part and beats off rivals such as British Telecom, Global One and Newtelco. The merger gives cablecom a size which enables it to link together local networks spread over the whole country and with different evolutionary histories, services and prices, and to harmonise them. Initially, the chain of retail outlets keeps the Rediffusion name.
In 1998 cablecom acquires the Internet service provider Swissonline. The company thereby obtains access to the Internet and the services business in this area. By taking this step, cablecom also indirectly enters into competition with its shareholder, the former Telecom PTT (now Swisscom) with its provider subsidiary Bluewindow (Bluewin). CEO Leo Fischer, charismatic pioneer in the Swiss cable television world, steps down from operational management in this year, but remains on the board of directors.
TV segment on Leo Fischer, former CEO of Cablecom
cablecom is the first company in Switzerland to enter the broadband business with «hispeed internet» and launches a digital television offering in the same year. Meanwhile, the owners decide to sell cablecom to the highest bidder. Leo Fischer leaves the board of directors, but takes part in the auction as part of a Swiss bidding consortium. British-American company NTL is the winning bidder, however.
TV news on the sale of Cablecom to NTL
cablecom invests in the infrastructure: the network allows feedback and the bandwidth is increased. The foundation is laid for further innovations. One year later, the remaining subsidiary company, Rediffusion, is sold: 19 of Rediffusion’s retail outlets will belong to Fust in the future, while the remainder will be taken over by Orange.
An advert from the time tells potential customers about Cablecom’s speed
In 2003, the indebted Cablecom is restructured: the majority share in the company is purchased by a group of banks and private investors (Apollo Investment Fund, Goldman Sachs Group, Soros Private Equity Investors).
The company is reborn: Instead of being listed on the stock exchange as planned, cablecom goes to Liberty Global. In 2009, new CEO Eric Tveter takes the turnaround in hand. The rebranding also breathes life into the newly named upc cablecom: in the years that follow, it launches a rapid succession of key innovations.
A planned stock market flotation collapses at the last moment: instead, cablecom is sold to the American company Liberty Global. That creates room for manoeuvre: cablecom is no longer only Swiss, but belongs to a strong network of primarily European cable network operators together with Liberty Global’s other subsidiaries.
So that it is increasingly able to offer its customers digital as well as analogue television, cablecom invests over 100 million Swiss francs in network expansion. Digital television booms in these years. cablecom sets new standards with the launch of high-definition television (HDTV).
Advert for intelligent television with digital TV
cablecom’s customer service fails to meet customers’ expectations during this time. The company has to deal with image problems. Eric Tveter is subsequently appointed as the new CEO of cablecom. He puts turnaround measures in place: increased focus on the customer, investment in the network, product improvements and employee incentives. A large-scale internal campaign is launched in order to involve the company’s employees in the transformation.
TV segment on Eric Tveter’s appointment
In May, cablecom launches the DigiCard – the first possibility of receiving digital television in Switzerland without a set-top box. cablecom introduces a new digital television portfolio and offers every household with a cable connection from cablecom a free Internet connection.
Digital television with a DigiCard – without a set-top box
The original plan was to rename the company UPC, like Liberty Global’s other subsidiaries. But ultimately it is decided to keep the widely known «cablecom» brand name. «cablecom» therefore becomes «upc cablecom». And a blue bloom replaces the red wrench as the logo.
The On Demand offer is expanded continuously and upc cablecom is the first Swiss provider to launch TV content in 3D. As part of a record attempt, upc cablecom achieves an Internet speed of 1.37 Gigabit per second over the existing network.
The blue bloom is the new logo
upc cablecom takes a major step at the end of 2012 by abolishing basic encryption. It is the most far-reaching restructuring on the Swiss TV market since the introduction of digital television. By doing so, upc cablecom converts all 1.8 million connected households to digital television. 55 digital channels (including HD) can be received directly from the cable socket and all customers also receive access to a free 2 Mbit/s Internet connection. upc cablecom now also operates retail outlets once again. The first shop is opened at the end of 2012 on Zurich’s Limmatquai.
TV news on the abolition of basic encryption
After the company began offering all services from a single provider in 2004, this is now followed by the logical next step: the newly launched Horizon platform combines TV, telephony and Internet in one box. The platform, which was developed together with the now British parent company, Liberty Global, offers an attractive 3D user interface as well as innovations such as television on the computer, iPad and iPhone. At the same time, upc cablecom once again launches Switzerland’s fastest Internet offer with new transmission rates of 150 Mbit/s throughout the entire network. The third successful business year in a row and high customer satisfaction are proof that the turnaround is complete.
Clip on the advantages of Horizon
In April 2014, upc cablecom launches its own mobile service. This means that customers are now able to purchase all products (TV, Internet, fixed network and mobile telephony) from a single provider. Just a few months later, the company introduces its own digital video library, MyPrime, which contains several thousand films, series, documentaries and children’s programmes – available on the go, too, thanks to the Horizon Go app. upc cablecom also creates Switzerland’s biggest WiFi network with Wi-Free.
An important organisational step is also taken in 2014:
upc cablecom and UPC Austria form the joint Austria/Switzerland regional organisation with its headquarters in Zurich.
On 7 July 2015, the last analogue channels were switched off in Ticino. This day signifies a milestone for upc cablecom: what started in 1999 with the launch of 32 digital channels led to the abolition of basic encryption for the digital channels at 2013. Between November 2014 and July 2015 this was followed by the gradual digitisation of the whole of Switzerland, driven by the Federal Council’s decision of 2013 to abolish the must-carry obligation for analogue channels from 2015.
upc cablecom has also achieved successes with its Internet services in 2015. At the end of June, the top speed of 250 Mbit/s was doubled to 500 Mbit/s.