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Telemeter (pay television)

telemeter pay television services, telemeter pay television providers
Telemeter was an American subscription television service developed by the International Telemeter Corporation, that operated from 1953 to 1967 Telemeter was used on a coin-to-box machine connected to any television set When the right amount of money was deposited into the box, a scrambled signal sent through coaxial cables was unscrambled and rendered visible1


Unlike most early pay television methods, Telemeter did not lease spectrum space Instead, it used wires, which provided a direct link between the subscriber and the television studio The system did not interfere with the closed-spectrum television signals, but rather used a closed circuit system working with a film chain The service was offered in three channels available to its subscribers who could choose from one of the three using a dial located on the box The box would be installed at the television set to receive the scrambled signals onto low-VHF channels usually channels 5 or 6 for descrambling

Tests began on November 27, 1953 in Palm Springs, California The first feature film broadcast on pay television was the world premiere of Forever Female, starring Ginger Rogers and William Holden The film was broadcast live from the Plaza Theatre Viewers could put $125 into the Telemeter boxes atop their television sets Normal community antenna television services, which gave subscribers the major Los Angeles stations, cost about $540 equivalent to $4834 in 2016 a month But with the set top box, installed at $2175, subscribers could get first-run films and sporting events at a price of $125 per program By early 1954, the Telemeter subscription system had signed up 148 households The film studios, however, due to pressure from theater owners and film distributors, put Telemeter under risk Following a lawsuit from a local drive-in theater owner, the film supply all but dried up, and Paramount Pictures was unsatisfied by customers playing only Paramount films The service ended on May 15, 1954

In 1959, nearly five years after its original shutdown, International Telemeter Corp now fully owned by Paramount began tests in Canada, under the name of Trans-Canada Telemeter Ltd, as Canada was outside of the FCC's jurisdiction and as US antitrust laws which threatened Paramount did not extend to Canada2 Services began in Etobicoke, Ontario on February 26, 1960 with 1,000 subscribers3 Programming during the first trial years consisted essentially of first-run movies and fictional series The overall cost of the investment was $15 million In 1961, Telemeter signed deals with the Toronto Argonauts football team and the Toronto Maple Leafs to broadcast away games; wrestling was also featured Some original programming, such as a Bob Newhart special, were also produced at Telemeter's Bloor Street studio and several Broadway shows and an opera performance were also broadcast

The Canadian experiment was not a success and was not extended outside of Etobicoke and the then neighbouring communities of Long Branch, Mimico and New Toronto, and was discontinued on April 30, 1965 At its peak, 5,800 households were subscribed4 By the time it shut down operations, it only had 2,500 subscribers

Around the time of the closure of its service in Toronto, Telemeter was planning an experimental pay television service that would offer three pay channels on an 11-channel CATV system in Montreal The service was never carried out Throughout the mid-1960s, Telemeter executives urged the FCC to authorize pay-TV as part of CATV in the United States

In 1966, Paramount was purchased by Gulf+Western Telemeter eventually became a separate subsidiary of G+W, which became owner of another NHL team, the New York Rangers, in 1977 It built two CATV systems in two states and applied for franchises in more than 200 cities Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, International Telemeter would continue, with little success, to develop new types of CATV and pay-TV equipment

Despite the failure of Telemeter, it was a technological innovation, introducing pay television into CATV systems, predating later premium television services such as HBO, Showtime and Starz, which would be carried on cable and satellite


  1. ^ Howe, Harley 1952-04-01 "Will You Pay for TV Shows" Popular Science Popular Science Publishing Co Inc  |access-date= requires |url= help
  2. ^ Stern, Lothar 1959-11-01 "Start of an Experiment" Popular Mechanics Popular Mechanics Company  |access-date= requires |url= help
  3. ^ "Canada: Pay and See TV" Time Time, Inc 1960-03-14 Retrieved 2011-04-11 
  4. ^ Woodrow, R Brian; Woodside, Kenneth Bernard 1982 The Introduction of Pay TV in Canada: issues and implications IRPP p 31 ISBN 9780920380673 

Further readingedit

  • Mullen, Megan 2003 The rise of cable programming in the United States: revolution or evolution Texas film and media studies series University of Texas ISBN 9780292752733 

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