A trillion dollars in a wire…. if you can see it…
As we pointed out on last week, technologically driven change can be traumatic and disruptive. It can cause formerly stable jobs and industries to disappear almost overnight. But new technologies can also offer vast opportunities to those who can see past the disruption and the trauma and approach change not as threat, but rather as an opportunity.
A case in point:
Like most new technologies that change the world, cable arrived without much fanfare. Nobody who looked at it in the beginning could understand what it would ultimtely mean… or rather almost nobody.
The first cabled systems, CATV (Community Antenna Television, or latterly, Community Access Television) were installed where physical objects such as mountains blocked conventional over-the-air television signals from reaching homes. If your rooftop antenna was not good enough to pick up NBC or CBS from your local affiliate, it was found that placing a community antenna on a mountaintop, and then running the signal into people’s homes via cable did the trick just fine.
The cable also had an unforseen side benefit: besides running bringing CBS and NBC signals into your home, it had plenty of spare capacity. And you didn’t have to get FCC licenses and spectrum approval to get into people’s homes, you could just drop the programming in at the cable head end.
Pretty soon there were lots of homes with spare cable capacity going into them, but not a lot of programming to fill those channels. Who, after all, would want more than 9 channels, all the networks, PBS and the locals. How much TV could any one person watch? How much TV could anyone produce?
At the same time that cable was suddenly bringing lots of spare channel capacity (but no programming) into people’s homes another piece of technology was changing the world in a completely different and unrelated way: satellites.
On the heels of the Soviet Sputnik in 1957, the US Government had gotten into a crash satellite building and launching program. Billions and billions of tax dollars had been spent on putting up a myriad of satellites, most of them carrying additional C Band transponders that sat pretty much unused for much of the time.
Two new technologies just feeling their way into the American economy – each young, vibrant and untested or underutelized.
It took a special kind of person to see how to put these two seemingly disparate things together.
The owner of the fifth rated local TV station in Atlanta got it before anyone else did.
His station was the pits.
No one watched.
Most of its programming was apalling local news and wrestling, and the bottom of the barrel sixth run syndicated shows he could afford.
But he had an idea.
He could beam his crappy fifth-rated station up ont0 an empty satellite platform and give it a continental footprint. And why not? No one else was there.
Then he provided the cable operators, all of whom were starving for content, with dishes so that they could download his local Atlanta station at their cable head ends and put it up on their cable systems.
In an instant, he went from having 30,000 viewers to having 30 million. The ad rates followed, as did the programming he could buy and deveop from this new found income.
The station – WTBS… was now a ‘superstation’.
His name: Ted Turner.
His genius (and there is no question that that is what it was), is that he could look at two new and seemingly unrelated technologies and put them together – a gaping need for content and a cheap way of distributing it.
From such insights are billionaires born.
Now… look at the Internet and its sudden screaming need for video.
Look at your laptop and your small camcorder.
Can you see a connection here?
Maybe… just maybe…… there’s something there.