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From the Editor - Psychology of Pay TV
February 1967 Radio-Electronics

February 1967 Radio-Electronics

February 1967 Radio-Electronics Cover - RF Cafe[Table of Contents]

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Radio-Electronics, published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. That old saying will live on forever. Radio-Electronics editor Forest Belt discusses in a 1967 issue of the magazine the debate between those companies and customers who are Pay-TV proponents and those who are Pay-TV opponents. Although you can read the entire article to draw your own conclusions, basically it boils down to whether being required to pay hard-earned money for commercial-free programs and movies will improve the quality. You can probably maker a similar argument being made at every stage of broadcast entertainment on cable, Internet, and smartphones. Personally, I gave up on 99.9% of all programming newer than around 1985, so I have no dog in the hunt, so to speak. Mr. Belt presciently states regarding current-day airings, "Viewers therefore disparage the quality of programs they now get on TV (while watching them insatiably), call the commercials lousy, and grumble that TV is the country's great time-waster."

See also "Looking Ahead: - and Pay TV," in the March 1969 Radio-Electronics.

Psychology of Pay TV - From the Editor

By Forest H. Belt

Pay television, or subscription TV as the FCC calls it. Service technicians fear it, so their associations fight it. Theater owners see it as a threat to their own prosperity, so they battle it viciously. City councils use it as a reason for blocking CATV franchises. Until recently, Hollywood film producers viewed it suspiciously, torn between attractive fees offered by pay TV and possible loss of theater outlets if top films were sold for first-run showing on pay TV.

On the other hand, much of the bickering about pay TV has to do with the viewers. Proponents insist that audiences will gladly pay to watch high-quality movies uninterrupted by commercials. Opponents argue that viewers are unlikely to pay extra for TV entertainment they can now have "for free." Pay-TV companies say the experiment that has been going on in Hartford, Conn., for the last 4 years proves customers will pay; opponents claim just as seriously that the Hartford experiment proves they won't.

It isn't likely there will ever be any actual agreement on any of these points. Like CATV, pay TV will live or die according to whether or nor the viewers actually do want it. If they don't, pay TV will have been just another temporary fancy.

There are, however, some questions about pay TV, about certain psychological aspects of the medium, that are worth looking into. These psychological factors themselves generate arguments, but they should be considered in any thorough evaluation of pay TV.

One factor is the "pay for it and it's better" syndrome, based on the assumption that no one appreciates anything that is free. Viewers therefore disparage the quality of programs they now get on TV (while watching them insatiably), call the commercials lousy, and grumble that TV is the country's great time-waster. Question: Would they think the fare was better if they were paying for it directly?

Viewing habits will be important to final acceptance of pay TV. Through the last 15 years, TV audiences have grown accustomed to breaks for commercials. They use the time to pour another beer, eat a snack or two, or pop some popcorn. Some simply stretch and relax from the wearying tension of continuous TV-watching. With this rest-period habit now well formed, how many long-time TV owners sit in a movie theater uneasily and restlessly (though perhaps unconsciously) waiting for the commercial breaks they know aren't coming? Children (and - face it - some adults) enjoy commercials. Question: Will 15 years of seeing commercials in regular break-spots be brushed aside in favor of 1 1/2- and 2-hour uninterrupted programs?

Cable TV (CATV) is another factor, despite its owners' disclaimers. Though aired pay TV is practical, it is easier to pipe pay-TV programs down the community wire. CATV customers get a bill each month anyway, the reasoning might go, so a few extra dollars for special programs would be hardly noticeable. Question: Will CATV subscribers pay this added cost when they already pay a monthly fee for their TV enjoyment?

First-run movies have already come to ordinary TV. In a recent week, there were eight movies under 4 years old, six of them in color; there were also nearly two dozen popular ones from the 1950's. Recent top theater attractions are even now being bought up by the three TV networks. Question: With top-grade movies available on "free" TV soon after (or even before) their release to theaters, will viewers spend money to see similar fare on pay TV?

In last month's editorial, I pointed out the extremely low cost of owning a TV receiver. This cost is necessary no matter what the program source, so the pay-TV fee is simply extra. Question: Will viewers pay twice (CATV viewers three times) to watch top-grade programs on TV?

The answers to all these questions haven't yet been determined. Time alone will tell. But they and many others will have to be answered before pay TV becomes the rule rather than the experimental exception.



Posted April 10, 2023

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