TREotM: The Late Eighties and More Cable

By TREotM Archives
Cover image for  article: TREotM: The Late Eighties and More Cable

Chapter 10, Part 8

This is the latest chapter in my book-in-progress, The Revolutionary Evolution of the Media. Go here to read it from the beginning.

The last chapter, about the mid-Eighties, ended with: That’s three years with a lot of activity. But they were nothing like the rest of the Eighties.

In 1987: TWA (remember the airline?) and Carl Icahn launched The Travel Channel (it peddled tickets, too), Movietime Channel and Telemundo launched as well.

As 1987 opened, ABC announced it lost money while ESPN was profitable.  Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements’ Arsenal Holdings (among the largest movie theater owners) won the takeover battle for Viacom for $3.4b. 

Cable’s deregulation in the Cable Act of 1984 took effect.  Jack Kent Cooke bought back into cable via McCaw for $755m.  Home Shopping Network expanded to Europe.  Rupert Murdoch bought Harper & Row for $338m.  Paramount’s Top Gun opened with a Pepsi ad. 

Fox Network debuted.  CBS bailed out of Trintex; Sears and IBM vowed to carry on.  CD revenues passed LPs.  USA Today (finally) made a profit just before its 5th anniversary.  Cable hit 50% TVHH penetration.  But Turner Broadcasting got in trouble; a consortium of cable operators joined his board and bailed him out … seems Ted overpaid for Gone with the Wind.

On Monday, October 19th, the stock market fell 508 points losing 22.6% of its value or over $500b.  The Global Blue Monday infected the world and markets everywhere crashed along with the US.  Though too late to help a few brokers shot by disgruntled investors, the Federal Reserved dropped interest rates quickly.  A little later, circuit breakers were added to prevent such precipitous drops in the future. 

1988 rebounded with elections and Olympics.  Faith and Values, Hallmark Channel and Turner Network Television (as “cable channel one” on addressable systems) launched.  Pay-per-view impacted home video windows as addressable homes jumped to 40m. 

During the televised Democratic Convention, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton nominated Michael Dukakis in one of the longest convention speeches in history … Clinton almost got a standing ovation when he said, “In closing … “

The rebound, though, didn’t include DJs; their number dropped 50% as satellite distribution of music channels (some from cable pioneer Glenn Jones of Jones Intercable) proliferated.  Every act in Billboard’s Top 10 was a dinosaur that first recorded in the ‘70s.  Long playing albums dominated the charts knocking the singles of the ‘50s and ‘60s into a temporary dustbin of history.  But iTunes and streaming services in the 21st Century brought back singles in a big way.

Business news via pagers and cellular phones hit a half million.  The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times printed the same front page on December 23rd

In 1989, no new networks launched.  But the biggest rollout was Trintex (soon to be Prodigy) in the last gasp of a closed system teletext retrieval system.  Prodigy struggled and the advent of the Internet changed everything as AOL reacted faster while Prodigy’s owners dithered about embracing the open systems. 

ABC was #1 in network ratings and CBS was trailing #3 Fox.  Fox bought McGraw-Hill’s stations. Cosby bombed in syndication.  FCC dropped limits on station ownership; but still kept xenophobia alive by preventing non-citizens from station ownership. 

Dan Rather jumped (or was pushed) from CBS to CNN.  CNN International could be found in 98 countries.  Dan Rather, after a visit to the boy’s room leaving CNN dark (first and only time in its history) was personally fired by Ted Turner.

Time, Inc. and Warner Communications merged.  Run by Dick Munro and Steve Ross, the combined firm had a market value of $15.2b with annual revenue of more than $10b.  Day to day operations reported to Nick Nicolas, Jr.  Drexel Burnham analyst John Reidy noted, ''What you've got is a company that will be the largest magazine publisher in the country, the world's most profitable record company, a cable television entity with more than 5.5 million cable subscribers, one of the world's largest book-publishing operations and the country's largest supplier of pay-cable programming.”  That, of course, didn’t last.  And it wouldn’t be the last merger for Time Warner that didn’t quite work out.

Meanwhile, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a memo when he was at CERN “suggesting the creation of a network of hypertext-linked nodes to help his fellow researchers organize and share information … “

Next week: Chapter 10, Part 9 – The Nineties and the Internet

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