Picture courtesy of qube-tv.com
More than 30 years ago, TV viewers in Columbus, Ohio, got first crack at the future of television: QUBE, a new interactive service from Warner Cable. With the cable industry still in its infancy, viewers with a QUBE set-top box had access to 30 channels (ten more than most of its competitors), along with a number of interactive features activated by a special remote control (pictured above). Subscribers could buy pay-per-view movies (a TV first), respond to polling questions and see the results almost instantly, bid on auctions, and even play rudimentary video games.
So why didn't QUBE change television forever? It all came down to the bottom line. The QUBE pilot service cost significantly more to offer than customers would charge, and those costs never came down even as it was rolled out to multiple cities. By 1983, Warner Cable was $875 million in debt, which led to a contentious and ultimately failed joint venture with American Express. Warner Cable's operations eventually were transitioned to a more standard setup in which the viewer could only sit on the couch and passively watch.
(For a detailed history, check out "When Cable Went Qubist" by Ken Freed.)
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