Movies and TV: Murder or Merger?

"What do the three-dimensional movie and the wide screen add to a motion picture? Do they really improve the artistic and aesthetic qualities of the medium to the degree necessary to recapture lost audiences permanently? In what ways are motion pictures inherently superior or inferior to television?"

Furthermore, the producers have a large backlog of old films. Only about 20 percent of the potential audience has ever seen any one of these films. Thus there is a large source of revenue immediately available. Television is an omnivorous consumer. Its programming problem staggers the imagination. The producers of pictures are limited only by the capacity of television to pay—but this is the rub. So long as television is supported by advertising, it can pay no more than advertisers can afford, and it can pass on to picture producers only a portion of this. Thus there is a restrictive ceiling to television income, and to motion picture income from television. It costs Hollywood one million dollars for ninety minutes of first-rate entertainment.

The way out of the strait jacket obviously is to collect from the user for television. If one tenth of the country's set owners paid one dollar for any single evening, the revenue would be $2 million.

Subscription television is not just a dream. It has been tried out, notably over a three-month period in Chicago under the control of the National Operations Research Center of the University of Chicago. The results indicated clearly that the public will pay. Three hundred families from all financial levels averaged nearly two performances per week to see telecasts of movies two or more years old at one dollar per performance. The national average movie attendance per family is about once every two weeks.

The problem involved is that of finding an adequate and substantially foolproof method of collection. There are three current solutions, each backed by a different group. All involve the broadcasting of a scrambled image which can only be unscrambled by the proper device on the receiving set. Phonevision, backed by the Zenith Radio Corporation, requires a telephone call to operate the unscrambler. You are billed by mail. The Chicago experiment was on this system. The International Telemeter Corporation, controlled by Paramount, employs a coin-in-the-slot device. Skiatron involves the purchase of an IBM code card with desired programs punched on it. Insertion of the card in the set does the unscrambling.

Under any of these systems you can enjoy a two- or three-hour show free of commercials and not chopped up into the present quarter- or half-hour segments. Ultimately there is no reason why you should not have the best of performances with a reasonably large screen, in three dimensions and full color, with substantially no effort on your part and only one admission fee for the number of people you may choose to pack into your living room.

I believe that nearly all subscription shows would be on film except for major sports events—and incidentally this pay-as-you-see process is the answer to the football, baseball, boxing television problem. The space mobility, the capacity to control time, and the ability to be stored are far too valuable assets of movies to be overlooked by television. Nor is the ability to improve the performance after it has been given to be dismissed lightly.

The premiere of a feature movie is logically and properly an event for television, the truly superior send-off. This is an idea that seems to horrify the motion picture industry because of its supposed effect on the motion picture theater. The argument is that if people can see the best pictures at home they will not go out, and therefore such pictures should only appear on television after they have exhausted the theater audience.

Consider the 20 million television sets in the country and assume that a new movie adequately advertised its premiere over television at 8 p.m. some Tuesday evening. Assume again that 10 percent of the owners pay a dollar, totaling $2 million. Top-grade feature pictures now receive at least 50 percent of the box-office receipts from the theaters. At this same rate the movie premiere on television will gross $1 million for the producer. He has recaptured his investment even before the film is shown in the theater!

On Wednesday morning there are still 140 million people who have not seen the picture. Furthermore, it has received the best conceivable advertising by the mere fact of the successful television performance. It is now ready for distribution to the movie theaters with 20 million word-of-mouth critics, many of whom will want to see it again with the greater clarity the movies will always have. With this kind of high-powered send-off a successful normal feature picture should outdraw the present 13 million average; the class A picture, the present 23 million.

The phonograph and the radio, because they enabled music to be heard in the home, have not decreased attendance at concerts over the long run. On the contrary, because music can be heard in the home, the attendance at concerts has increased enormously, and music lovers in the country have multiplied.

The motion picture industry has within itself the capacity to survive. Its new forms are imposing on it some very difficult technical growing pains. The three-dimensional form needs new camera and projector designs, much more careful optical control. The industry's prime consideration, however, should be to foster all those aspects of television which will promote the future of motion pictures. It should view television as the most powerful advertising medium for motion picture theaters. If it needs a savior, that savior is much more likely to be television than either 3-D or wide screen or both.

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