As television evolves, it becomes more complex and harder to use.
Orwellian for sure. We live in an age created by H.G. Wells and time travelers from the literature of our past. There are now televisions as small as the wrist watch Dick Tracy wore on those cold Sunday mornings of our youth. Man has walked on the moon and although there are no men on Mars, we only know that because our machines have traveled to there to satisfy the possibilities of our imagination. When television came, it was like the entertainment manna from heaven, not from a tree in the desert, but from signals in the air. Who would have thought what enjoyment Marconi brought to an unsuspecting world when he first telegraphed that message to a young David Sarnoff.
We wanted more. After CBS and NBC we got local independents. Bozo was created in Chicago along with Kukla, Fran & Ollie. A guy by the name of Captain Kangaroo came out of New York.... and a singing cowboy was building television stations up and down the Western coast. Autrey was his name.... Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Phoenix were his game. Another cowboy named Cassidy saw the power of talent ownership and literally created syndicated television as we know it today. But everyone knew his real name was William Boyd.
We wanted more. ABC was created. And soon we would have every western known to man coming out of Warner Brothers into our homes. Cheyenne, Sugarfoot and a little thing called Maverick came our way, making stars out of their leads. We raced through the Western genre and rapidly tore through the private detective and spy capers. Some guy thought we would be interested in outer space and brought us a space ship named the Enterprise with promises that they would take us where no man had ever gone before.
We wanted more. Someone in the mountains in Pennsylvania decided that they wanted to take in all the goodies the rest of the world was getting. In order for them to see television clearly, they brought us CATV, Community Active Television. This was a little thing that was paid for by all the citizens and placed on top of a mountain peak and then CABLED into the homes for clear, bright receptions, just like those big city boys had in New York City. Soon, the rest of the world wanted what Pennsylvania had. We wanted more so we got cable.
We wanted more. More programming to fill our insatiable thirst for more information, factoids and other knowledge to fill our brains to overflowing. At first we got the local stations clearly and something called the Entertainment and Sports Network out of Connecticut. And a little pay service that was on limited hours known as Home Box Office. In 1980, a fellow out of Atlanta felt we should have news on all the time. So, lacking a better name, Cable News Network was thrown to us.
We wanted more. People kept building cable systems and other people started buying them all up. And in order to pay for their investment, they needed more inventory. So we got more. CNN Headline News, CNBC, A&E, TNT, TBS, WGN, WOR, BET, TNN, CMT, AMC, BRAVO, DISCOVERY, VH-1, MTV, LIFETIME, "E", FAMILY, USA, LEARNING, NOSTALGIA, COMEDY CENTRAL, CARTOON NETWORK, COURTV, ESPN 2, WEATHER, HOME SHOPPING, QVC, TRAVEL, FX and more. In addition, we got SHOWTIME, PLAYBOY, MOVIE CHANNEL, CINEMAX, ENCORE, STARZ, DISNEY and pay per view.
But, we wanted more. So Warner Bros. brought us the WB Network and Paramount created the Paramount network, built on its franchise... the program featuring the Enterprise.
But now, our tastes are varied and our appetites... voracious. We want more at our finger tips as the universe gets smaller and smaller, and programs repeat themselves over and over. Plus, we have a new entity to complain about. Now our target for attack is the local cable company. We'll show them! This will fix their raising our cable rates to get that clearer, sharper picture right into our homes... our castle... our tomb.
Someone in Minneapolis decided to make a satellite dish, as small as the dishes in your dishwasher, available to the masses at only a fraction of the cost. Now the masses will not have to deal with that terrible old cable company anymore. Finally, more to see, at less cost and no intrusion from those outsiders.
Now even home furnishings dealers are selling the newest electronic evolution in communications. Is this a conflict with their own interests... with their own preservation?
A look at the dishes and what their introduction means comes under the heading of "first, give them what they want and then we'll try to figure out how to use it." A whole avenue of opportunity for new sales has been opened for home furnishings dealers who want to actively sell the concept of home entertainment. Television is furniture!
The dish allows us to receive far away signals. It does not deliver the local stations which are provided by cable services with crystal clarity. People in the city who have a dish will, therefore, receive their local television stations the way they did before cable. They will have to go back to the time when people who lived a distance from their local transmitting station's tower received 'snowy' reception. In some cases, local airwave reception has worsened over the past fifteen years because major stations have not invested in new antenna technology. Thus, a weak station in the '70s may be a weak station in the late '90s if the dish evolution takes off and replaces cable.
For the local retailer, this could be disastrous. Dominant stations who have enough power to send their signal universally throughout a trading market will be the only local stations able to effectively deliver local news and advertisements. Not only will those stations grow in might, but their advertising rates will soar as they gobble up more and more of the audience.
Now instead of having the best of all worlds... easy access to cable programming which makes all stations equal, with rates based on audience size... you will have no access to dish delivered homes on anything except local station delivery.
In many markets throughout America, we have two bands of television frequency. There is the powerful VHF band (Very High Frequency with channel options 2 through 13) and the weaker UHF band (Ultra High Frequency with channel options 14 through 99 and above). Remember when the stations called themselves by their channel number? Well, it's about to happen again if the dish evolution takes off.
To date, most cable networks have offered their signals to the dish operators for re-transmission. This means that under normal atmospheric conditions, you should be able to receive the Initial Networks (the cable networks such as CNN, ESPN et al) just as you do today, but without local advertising put into the schedule. You will only receive national or network advertising.
That's the bad news if you are a local retailer.
The good news is there is a fly in the ointment as far as the dish is concerned. Based upon atmospheric conditions, the signal can be interrupted if there is a storm in between the points where the signal transmission originates and where it is received (at the dish). This means that if you have a storm, the movie you are watching, or the program that you are deeply into, can be interrupted. This may turn off some dish converters.
As people crave the best possible picture, and the most opportunities for programs, it appears that cable is still the best reception vehicle that we have. But beware. This period of excellent audience targeting may be on the brink of elimination, particularly for the local retailer attempting to reach a local audience.
The initial demand for dishes has outstripped RCA's manufacturing capacity. The backlog of sold inventory is huge. Once deliveries have been made and the installations have been met, the future of the dish will depend on how well the product performs in terms of reception, price and programming.
So, just when you thought you had everything figured out, someone comes along and invents something else which makes selling home furnishings that much tougher.
On the other hand, if you expand real fast and grow in size with multiple locations across America, the dish will make your reach that much easier. You'll have the advantage of being able to reach your target for a fraction of the cost.
As television evolves, it becomes more complex and harder to use. But that is the price we pay for advancement in the first place. Because without television, no one would get the message.
Lance G. Hanish is the President of Lance Benefield & Co., Inc. Worldwide, a leading marketing communications firm serving home furnishings retailers. Questions on any aspect of television media management or production can be direct to Mr. Hanish care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.