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The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States

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    The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States
    Book Description:

    In 1971, the Sloan Commission on Cable Communications likened the ongoing developments in cable television to the first uses of movable type and the invention of the telephone. Cable's proponents in the late 1960s and early 1970s hoped it would eventually remedy all the perceived ills of broadcast television, including lowest-common-denominator programming, inability to serve the needs of local audiences, and failure to recognize the needs of cultural minorities. Yet a quarter century after the "blue sky" era, cable television programming closely resembled, and indeed depended upon, broadcast television programming. Whatever happened to the Sloan Commission's "revolution now in sight"?

    In this book, Megan Mullen examines the first half-century of cable television to understand why cable never achieved its promise as a radically different means of communication. Using textual analysis and oral, archival, and regulatory history, she chronicles and analyzes cable programming developments in the United States during three critical stages of the medium's history: the early community antenna (CATV) years (1948-1967), the optimistic "blue sky" years (1968-1975), and the early satellite years (1976-1995). This history clearly reveals how cable's roots as a retransmitter of broadcast signals, the regulatory constraints that stymied innovation, and the economic success of cable as an outlet for broadcast or broadcast-type programs all combined to defeat most utopian visions for cable programming.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79852-6
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Cable History and Television Theory
    (pp. 1-28)

    In an important 1971 policy proposal, The Sloan Commission on Cable Communications likened the ongoing developments in cable television to the first uses of movable type and the invention of the telephone. They urged a complete overhaul of existing cable policy, referring to such a measure as “the revolution now in sight” (2). The Sloan Commission was not the only party to hold high expectations for cable during the late 1960s and early 1970s—years that have become known as cable’s “Blue Sky” period. In fact, a number of similar proposals were forwarded, suggesting that cable could provide services ranging...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Community Antenna Television, 1948―1968
    (pp. 29-63)

    In his influential 1964 book,Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan observed that “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.” McLuhan’s statement reminds us that new media do not enter society astabulae rasae; instead they are introduced to improve upon the functions already performed by existing media. It is only after the newer media have been in use for a while that their own unique capabilities are discovered or revealed. An especially good demonstration of this point is the historical relationship between broadcast and cable television in the United States. As I argue throughout this book, although cable television...

  6. CHAPTER THREE New Directions for Cable, 1968―1975
    (pp. 64-93)

    In spite of dramatic technological innovation that would shape cable in the late 1970s, after the introduction of communications satellites to the industry, the years from 1968 to 1975 arguably were the period in which cable changed the most. During these years policies, programming precedents, and industrial structures were established that would guide the development of cable programming during the satellite era. In 1960 CATV had been perceived as a mere novelty by other entertainment industries, and was little known to television audiences not relying on it for basic service. Even the group of broadcasters who actively opposed CATV around...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Rise of Satellite Cable, 1975―1980
    (pp. 94-127)

    The 1975 satellite debut of Home Box Office might be described as a revolution in cable programming since this was the first instance of a non-broadcast-based cable network becoming available to audiences nationwide. Indeed, this pioneering use of satellite technology for a pay-cable network—an event that marked the beginning of modern cable television—was a breakthrough in cable communications. The cable industry’s goal of offering packages of programming to supplement retransmitted broadcast channels, a goal firmly established in the early 1970s, was aided tremendously by the advent of an efficient means of widespread distribution. In effect, satellites created an...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Broadcast Television’s Resource-Starved Imitator, 1980―1995: PART I
    (pp. 128-153)

    As the previous chapters demonstrate, the U.S. cable industry evolved considerably in its first three decades—from a rural retransmission medium to a multichannel supplement to broadcast television. This reflects the coming together of a distinct industry as well as the increasing consolidation of operations within that industry; as cable operators increasingly shared profit-generating ideas, cable increasingly carved out its own niche within the larger entertainment industry. It also reflects a regulatory climate in which a fledgling industry grappled with continually shifting constraints on its growth. Even though the 1980s and the 1990s were a time of relative leniency in...

  9. CHAPTER SIX A Scheduling and Programming Innovator, 1980―1995: PART II
    (pp. 154-184)

    Today’s cable networks unquestionably bear evidence of the medium’s historical dependence on broadcast television—certainly more than policymakers of the 1960s and 1970s would have predicted or planned. Yet a consideration of modern cable programming practices also would not be complete without a look at how cable networks have differentiated themselves within the larger world of televised entertainment and information. In the highly competitive open-entry market situation that characterized television in the 1980s and 1990s, cable networks faced the significant challenge of making inexpensive and usually recycled types of programming seem as interesting and worthwhile as what viewers already could...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Cable Television’s Past, Present, and Future
    (pp. 185-196)

    In spite of its many promotion and scheduling innovations, U.S. cable programming sometimes has been perceived as a failure or, perhaps, a series of compromises. In large part, this is due to the tremendous optimism and idealism generated during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the period in cable history known as “Blue Sky.” At that time, cable began to be understood as more than a simple retransmission medium, and many proposals envisioned ways in which it might expand, or even reinvent, television programming. The following statement, which appears near the beginning of the well-known 1971 Sloan Commission report,On,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 197-212)
  12. References
    (pp. 213-222)
  13. Index
    (pp. 223-230)