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Gallup Vault
Gallup Vault: The Birth of Pay Television
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: The Birth of Pay Television

by Art Swift

Television was sweeping the nation in 1955, often serving as competition to movies in theaters. Around this time, enterprising business leaders began thinking of how to fuse these two national passions. The result was Telemeter -- a subscription television service that allowed customers to place coins in a box connected to their television set and watch popular movies in the comfort of their own home.

Paying for Movies at Home
Many motion pictures made in recent years may be put on television and there is talk of having people pay for these by having a special coin box alongside their set. If they cost the same, would you prefer to see a new movie at home, or in your local theater?
Apr 14-19, 1955%
At home 52
At theater 37
No opinion 11
Asked of Americans who had television sets in their home (72% of all U.S. households)

Gallup asked Americans who owned a television set if, for the same price, they would prefer to watch recent movies at home or at the theater. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to watch movies at home, as opposed to 37% who would rather go to the theater. As for how much people would pay for the ability to watch movies at home, 12% said "21 to 27 cents," 11% said "46 to 55 cents," and 57% said "Nothing, not interested in movies."

While a Telemeter trial in Palm Springs, California, exceeded the company's expectations, the technology did not catch on in the U.S., partly because of substantial pressure from movie theater owners and film distributors. The company tried again in Canada but shut down for good in 1965 because of lack of consumer interest there. It's unclear whether this was a failure of marketing, or if the concept was simply ahead of its time. While Telemeter fizzled in the U.S., 20 years later this technological innovation allowed home movies to become the norm with the introduction of cable television and premium channels such as HBO.

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