Broadcasting Versus Cable
Network television seems not to have fully comprehended the threat inherent in cable. When Home Box Office in 1975 requested from the FCC the right to bounce its TV signal off the orbiting Satcom I satellite, the Commission announced a public hearing at which all dissenting parties would have the right to protest before a final decision was made. If ever there was a time to bring out the top executives and lobby the FCC for a rejection of the HBO proposal, this was it. Instead, the public hearing produced no network dissent. To compound the error, the satellite leased by HBO was owned by the Radio Corporation of America, parent company of NBC.
A biographer of HBO has summarized this development concisely. "Most of those opposed to pay television, such as movie studios, theater owners, and broadcast networks, clearly did not understand anything about the new technology and its implications," wrote George Mair. "Or if they did understand it, they didn't care, because they didn't think Home Box Office could make it work financially." He continued, "One of the three factors in the amazing success of Home Box Office was the stupidity of its competitors. This mute response to the FCC's invitation to protest HBO's request to go up on satellite is a classic illustration of that stupidity."
The stupidity of the mid-1970s became consternation in the 1980s as broadcast and cable became locked in intense competition. The most obvious results in this contest for the heart and mind of the American viewer could be seen in the programming records of both delivery systems during the 1980s.
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