CBS's Van Sauter says, "There's going to be a lot of pressure on the tolerance of the entertainment dollar. How much of a bite will home TV take? Can someone afford $60, $70, $100 a month for entertainment and sports on TV? It's very hard to project."
Nevertheless, with revenue coming from sources other than network advertisers, we can look forward to a great fragmentation of power in the broadcasting industry as well as an even greater fragmentation of options for viewers. And that is plainly the best part of this whole revolution. At the moment Atlanta is perhaps the prime example of what much of the U.S. can expect in the next decade or so. The city is the first major metropolitan area with a 54-channel, 400-megahertz cable system, which means that cable subscribers there have about as rich—and confusing—a menu of TV fare as anywhere in the world. Among other things, they can receive all eight local over-the-air stations; channels devoted exclusively to religious programming and the Atlanta public library; ESPN; the USA Network; two super-stations (WGN and WOR); the Video Sports Network; HBO and Showtime; stock-market and weather reports; plus services providing home security, temperature control, public-access programs, coverage of local governmental bodies in sessions, etc., etc.
As Wayne Vowell, director of marketing for Cable Atlanta, says, "We don't know what everybody likes, but whatever it is, we're going to try to deliver it. If we sell half the city our service, our responsibility is not to learn why they bought it, but why the other half didn't, and then to give them whatever they want to make them buy."
Giving viewers a myriad of options is indeed the wave of the future. "Cable will become entirely the tool of the consumer by the end of the 1980s," says Kay Koplovitz, president of the USA Network. "Whatever he wants, he'll get. The networks will no longer control programming or the choice of programming. The viewers will be their own programmers because they'll be selecting what they really want to see."
True enough, and, more than ever before, sport will be centered in the American living room. But then, just what is going to happen at the events themselves? "It will be super nice if pay TV works out according to all the rosy predictions," says San Diego Clippers General Manager Ted Podleski. "But you have to ask: What exactly is a sport event? I think it's a happening. What if there weren't any people in the arena screaming and hollering? Sport is emotional. We have to have a contribution from real people, real fans, to keep the players motivated. Do you suppose we could be reaching a point where we'll have to hook up mikes in the house so the sounds from the living room can be broadcast back into the arena?"
Do you suppose?
Well, no one could have foreseen the revolutionary forces that have gone to work on TV sport—and its fans—in the last few years. Even something as wondrous as polo in Iolo has come to seem ordinary. Nevertheless, much is in doubt.