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THE $6,000,000,000 QUESTION
December 26, 1960
Should Pay Television, potentially the biggest sport and entertainment bonanza ever, be encouraged or suppressed? A decade of bitter conflict over that question is nearing a climax. Here a Sports Illustrated research team, made up of M. R. Werner, Henry Romney, Margot Marek and Eugenia Frangos, examines the claims. Their findings should help both the government and the public answer: The $6,000,000,000 Question
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December 26, 1960

The $6,000,000,000 Question

Should Pay Television, potentially the biggest sport and entertainment bonanza ever, be encouraged or suppressed? A decade of bitter conflict over that question is nearing a climax. Here a Sports Illustrated research team, made up of M. R. Werner, Henry Romney, Margot Marek and Eugenia Frangos, examines the claims. Their findings should help both the government and the public answer: The $6,000,000,000 Question

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In October of this year a certain Tom O'Neil was called on to testify at a federal investigation in Washington. The investigation had nothing to do with crime or violence, but anyone paying attention could soon deduce who O'Neil was. He had to be a character who beat up elderly ladies for a living and who pushed dope on the side.

The reason for the investigation, it ultimately was disclosed, was that O'Neil wanted to run special shows on TV in Hartford, Conn. and, instead of having advertisers pay the bill in the regular way, he planned to charge the people who tuned in these programs. They would be billed each month for what they chose to see—as little as 25� for some shows and perhaps up to $3.50 for others. But why would anybody pay money to see a TV program when the air is already full of TV programs? There were plenty of questions for O'Neil:

?How about dirty pictures? Was O'Neil figuring on making his money by showing sex movies, loading his programs with a lot of pornography?

?How about four-letter words? Was he planning to spice his programs with a lot of s-m-u-t?

?How about democracy? Only rich people could afford to look at these programs. What's wrong with the poor people having a good time?

?When was he going to stop selling babies on the black market?

Actually, to be quite scrupulous about it, the questions are paraphrased, and the last one never got asked. Nonetheless, they accurately convey both the sense of the questions and the spirit of the inquiry. The hearings had been called by the Federal Communications Commission, but they were instigated and largely dominated by movie-theater owners and (potently, though in the background) representatives of the television networks. The latter regard O'Neil as the harbinger of a threat worse than death—i.e., competition—so it is hardly surprising that they came with their knives drawn.

The immediate issue was merely whether an O'Neil company called Hartford Phonevision Co. should receive FCC permission to give Pay TV a three-year experimental tryout in its broadcasting area. To the TV networks, however, this was only the proverbial camel's nose under the tent intended to prepare the way for whole troops of other Pay TV invaders soon to follow all over the country. The day that Hartford Phonevision starts operation will (so they prophesied) symbolically mark the beginning of the end of the nation's movie theaters and its present "free" system of television.

And, of course, this involves not peanuts, nor even popcorn. In fact, it involves about $6 billion. And since—reverting, as even the TV networks sometimes do, to the idiom of the four-letter word—they would rather be r-i-c-h than p-o-o-r, naturally TV's hierarchy felt obliged to fight O'Neil tooth, nail and innuendo.

The hearings ended two months ago, and the findings will be announced some time after the first of the year. The present pregnant interval, therefore, is a good time for sports fans to find out what the argument is about; and this season has an appropriateness all its own, for this is the season of decision in pro football—and, as usual under the present system, people in the cities where the games were being played were not able to see them on TV.

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