FROM THE PIT
Two weeks ago a television set was just about the fastest selling luxury item on the marked. But suddenly last week sales virtually halted, and across the country there was a rush to cancel previous orders for sets. One manufacturer even decided to stop producing TV sets and made plans to convert to glass processing instead.
All this was the initial upshot of the Federal Communications Commission's decision of October 11 in favor of the CBS system of hearings and closed sessions, the FCC voted to authorize color telecasting under the CBS method starting November 20. Columbia immediately announced it would be ready to begin a "new era of television" with 20 hours of color programs a week.
The only trouble is that almost nobody will be able to see color TV when it starts, because color-casts will require a heavy financial outlay from such of the 8,000,000 U.S. set owners who want CBS color programs to appear on their screens. In order to watch color shows even in black-and-white, TV fans will have to purchase a $35 "adapter," while complete conversion to color will cot at least another $75 for a "converter." And there is little sign that many adapters and converters will be on the market for a long time.
Only CBS, which stands to gain up to $150 million in patent license fees, seemed happy last week about the FCC's decision. Although Columbia color is superior to all other video color techniques, present and prospective set owners are alarmed that CBS color won's work over today's standard TV set. More alarmed still are most of the major set producers, who are grimly watching demand for their receivers fall off. But most irate of all are RCA and the National Broadcasting Company, who together have developed another system that can carry color programs in black-and-white over regular sets without the use of the adapter.
RCA-NBC, as well as the Pilot Radio Corporation, struck back fast at the FCC decision, filing for Federal court injunctions to stop CBS color from ever coming into being. Meanwhile, the Radio-Television Manufacturers Association decided to launch an all out ad publicity campaign for black-and-white television, and many a big manufacturer joined the fight by refusing to start producing adapters, converters, and color-TV sets. AS a result, CBS will have to rely on such small manufacturers an Celomat and Muntz to supply most of the early receiving apparatus.
Despite all the opposition, Columbia is going ahead with its plans for a late November debut of color television, backed by an FCC announcement this week that it will vigorously contest the two court challenges against the decision. Columbia color, unlike RCA color, is already perfected, the commission has argued, and any delay now in a decision would only mean more sets overhauled in the end since RCA's color system, apparently, is still far from perfection.
Selling color television to a public that doesn't have much chance of seeing it will be like marketing seersuckers to the Eskimos. CBS will not be able to transmit both black-and-white and color programs at the same time, and it will have to concentrate its color shows early in the day and late at night--before and after the black-and-white signs on and off.
Since hardly anyone will have adapters and converters for home sets, CBS is relying on a series of public demonstrations of its color programs to stimulate quick interest. Most TV critics agree that CBS color is better than movie Technicolor, and CBS hopes that once the public starts seeing video revues in soft, restful colors and starts spotting contrasting jerseys in football games, black-and-white television will become a drab thing.
Of course it will be a long time before black-and-white video becomes obsolete. Current sponsors will certainly be slow to switch their advertising to color shows that don't beast big audiences, and just like movies today, certain subjects will turn out better in black-and-white than in color. The black-and-white men have reason to fear that the FCC color decision will cut into the current boom in TV set sales; but they know black-and-white television will become a drab thing.
On the other hand, CBS, supported by the long arm of the FCC, will be fighting the next few months to win the public--as well the entire industry--over to color. It could be the quickest and most successful promotion trick in history.