Its Promise and Demise

Leonard R. Graziplene

In August 1981, when IBM introduced its personal computer, the United States moved further away from the Industrial Age and closer to what we commonly refer to today as the Information Age. The PC has not been solely responsible for this dramatic change. Several other new powerful electro-media technologies also made their appearance at the same time. Some of the most notable of these were videotex, teletext, cellular telephone, multimedia, and satellite communications.


Most of these did very well and prosper to this day. Teletext, on the other hand, did not survive. Because it was a free service and capable of providing news on demand, logic dictates it should have survived.


What was teletext? It was a technology developed in Europe in the late 1970s, and perfected in North America during the early 1980s by the Canadian Department of Communications and AT&T. Briefly stated, it was a digital database that could be transmitted along with a regular television signal. It was resident in the unused portion of the television broadcast signal called the vertical blanking interval and enabled broadcast, PBS, and cable television stations to simultaneously transmit a graphically enhanced free news magazine along with their normal programs.


In order to access the service a decoder was needed. To many, the cost was prohibitive. There was also confusion over which of two competing protocols a consumer should choose. However, it was felt there was value in giving viewers the opportunity to access news on demand. CBS and NBC were the major television networks that developed and offered a service. At the same time, several of the largest print media companies, such as Time and Times Mirror, were also active participants in teletext. Together, these companies invested large sums of money in the technology, but unexpectedly, in an information oriented society such as the United States, all of the major services failed by the late 1980s.


Why teletext failed raises many serious questions. Teletext: Its Promise and Demise is the first book to address this issue in depth. Most importantly, from a strategic planning perspective, it identifies, discusses, and analyzes the conditions that sealed teletext's fate.


But why is it important to know about teletext? Because in many ways teletext was the forerunner of the Internet. For this reason a better understanding of teletext has contemporary relevance. Business, legal, technological, and governmental influences will surely impact the Internet in years to come. Will these forces bring improvements or will they provoke a series of irritants Or, like teletext, will costs become prohibitive For many reasons the Internet is generating more serious questions. 

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Lehigh University Press - Teletext