In this 2019 world, we’re looking at a cable-based service (in the early internet years of the mid-1990s) for your very 1990s SEGA Genesis.
You read that correctly.
“Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better…”
SEGA Genesis and Super Nintendo, both released around the same time, were always of the “anything you can do, I can do better” persuasion. Both systems tried to be everything the other was not – better games, better graphics, more bells and whistles. But Sega had something Super Nintendo did not – a cable company-based service that delivered a set amount of games to your home for the cost of a monthly subscription.
If you owned a Genesis and were willing to pay that subscription cost, you would never have to rent games at the video store. Or even better, you could try out games and decide if they were worth buying.
They called it SEGA Channel, and it was a real thing.
I know, because I had it!
SEGA Channel was a cable company subscriber-based service, established in 1994. It first served areas receiving Time Warner (now Spectrum) and TCI (based in Denver, CO) as their cable providers. Launching in December 1994, the service was provided via coaxial cable attached to a cartridge placed in the Genesis.
Image: Scientific Atlanta Version of SEGA Channel Adapter (Source)
Upload via that90sguy
The initial activation fee (which included the adapter) was $25, and the subscription fee was $15 per month. Though released close to the end of the Genesis’ life span (all consoles and development for the system was discontinued in early 1995), the service saw 250,000 subscribers at its peak. By 1997, the subscription rate dropped to 230,000, and was discontinued on July 31, 1998.
But in that short lifespan, it was pretty memorable for those who had it, including my house.
My SEGA Channel Memories
My brother and I co-purchased a SEGA Genesis in late 1995 (unaware, of course, that the system was being discontinued) to replace our aging, barely working Nintendo Entertainment System. We felt like the last two kids with an NES, while everyone else was on to 16-bit (one of my friends had SNES, my brother’s friends had SEGA Genesis). The console itself was relatively inexpensive by that time, and easily affordable for two thirteen-year-olds.
Image: SEGA Channel Adapter (General Instrument Version – this was the one I had!) Source
A month after we got our system, we saw a commercial on our cable provider for SEGA Channel, and the idea of having 50 rotating games per month (later, it was upped to 70, and the rotation frequency became a bi-weekly occurrence) appealed to us (and my parents), as it would be more cost effective than renting games at the video store. We received our adapter in early 1996, and kept the service until the very end. I think we still had the adapter in the house until we moved in 2006. It was a great service, and a hit with our friends as well.
I had Jeopardy Deluxe Edition for Super Nintendo, but my one friend and I used to play it for SEGA as well (mostly for the different players, one of whom looked like O.J. Simpson). We also used to have this really strange obsession with trying to beat – brace yourself – Barney’s Hide and Seek. Oh my goodness, what an awful game that was, but as thirteen-year olds, the idea of trying to walk Barney off a cliff was hilarious.
This, on the other hand, finding the kids and hugging them weirded us out. We didn’t exactly use the terms “Stranger Danger” and “Bad Touch” in 1996, but um…wow. And he never walked off a cliff. Ever. He’d hold up a stop sign and say “Stop! Wait until it’s safe!” I remember when we beat the game, and my friend and I acted like it was some amazing accomplishment that we beat a game made for little kids featuring a child-loving purple dinosaur.
I also loved playing Tiny Toon Adventures, since I always played the Nintendo version at my other friend’s house. As an adult, I (guilty pleasure) still love that game, and have gotten to – but have yet to beat – Elmyra. I actually gave up on trying to beat her as an adult, and it kills me.
Praise, Criticism, and All the Games!
Image: SEGA Channel Menu Source
The biggest criticism with the service (of which I share none of this) was its subscription price (my parents said this was affordable) and the timing of its launch (in close proximity to the discontinuation of the Genesis). If it had been released maybe a few years earlier (a similar service, SEGA Meganet, began in Japan in 1990), perhaps it would have had more staying power on the market.
But alas, it was a product of its time, though an innovative one – the biggest praise it received was that it marked the beginning of this type of service, and paved the way for broadband internet. The only technical issues we ever ran into where if there was interference on the cable line. I don’t recall that happening very often, maybe once or twice.
The system had games that were already released to cartridge, but also had some exclusive titles, as well as demos of upcoming games and contests. The best part (for me) about the system was that there were games we got to try out before buying, and games we didn’t want to pay a rental fee or buy were likely on the service. We had so much fun playing SEGA Channel. I had a Super Nintendo at the time, and my only criticism of that system (I loved my SNES) was that it didn’t have something like SEGA Channel.
Memories of SEGA Channel…On YouTube!
Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, the SEGA Channel isn’t relegated to the dusty bargain bin of the human brain that actually remembers this stuff.
For the record, my brain’s bargain bin is quite dust free.
Here’s a promo for the service, as aired in 1994:
They were still showing this in 1995 through my cable company (Adelphia). (Thanks YouTube user DESOKUeV for uploading this commercial!)
(By the way, Oceanic Cable is now part of Time Warner Cable’s successor, Spectrum.)
And here’s a demo of the startup and menus (thanks VideoGaming4U!):
Sonic tearing across your Genesis meant you were about to play something amazing!
Wow. It’s all just as good (and so mid-1990s) as I remember it being!
So what are your memories of the Sega Channel? Did you have it, see commercials for it, or want it? If you had it, was it everything you hoped for?
Let me know all about your Sega Channel memories – I’ve told you mine!