Fourteen years ago KSL-TV began broadcasting teletext, which in those days seemed to hold promise of becoming "the electronic newspaper."
Teletext delivered "pages" of information in text form to the TV screen. Mostly it was look-up data like the weather report and sports scores. The process grew out of captioning for the deaf, and like those signals rode piggyback on the regular transmission.- THOUGH IT HAS MILLIONS of viewers on both public and commercial TV in countries like Britain, teletext seemed doomed never to catch on big in competition with the vast information offerings here. One problem is that sets have to be equipped with a decoder that costs about $250. And nobody seemed to figure out how a station could make it pay for itself.
Now KSL is reporting breakthroughs. It says the service is even beginning to make money. That's because teletext is developing in quite different ways than originally envisioned:
Portions of the over-the-air service are being sold to specialized users of information who want to send it to their own clients, who have decoders programmed for that service. Other viewers with a decoder can still get the regular programming. (KSL doesn't charge people who want to send information out as a public service, such as community events announcements and schedules.)
Another service, which Ch. 5 calls an "enhanced bulletin board program," can be called up by the growing legion of people who have personal computers tied into their phone service through a modem. This information comes over the telephone line and is commonly referred to as videotex (spelled without the final t).
Teletext can send any kind of computer data simultaneously to a multitude of points. It can be displayed on a TV screen or pumped into a computer. "That's why we are becoming profitable. No other system has that capacity," says Dave Webb, who heads teletext/videotex operations for KSL.
Though Webb, a BYU communications graduate, has a background in print media, he enthuses about the new computer technology. "We blend the best of print and broadcasting."
Webb figures about a third of all families in the KSL service area have access to computers. So, of course, do schools and businesses. "We have teachers who call in every day for the news briefs, format it on their computers as a current events worksheet and print up copies to hand out."
- BOTH THE COMPUTER videotex service and over-air teletext service for the general public focus on news and listings from the wire services, including world news briefs updated every hour, plus regional weather reports, sports briefs, scores and standings, constantly updated time-sensitive material like stock quotations, and, increasingly, local news from KSL.
To get teletext on the screen, viewers use a keypad that can call up hundreds of pages from a menu.
Computer users have to "download" from the system to the computer. "A lot of people who use modems know how to do this already. All we do is give them the phone tie-in number (575-5911). They can also call on our voice line (575-5566) for instructions. We give them tips or even talk them through the procedure."
Videotex and the non-specialized teletext offering come free to the viewer with no limitation on their use. (When the computer service started, KSL rationed pages to five per call.) Some advertising is beginning to appear, both as pages and sponsorship lines.
Webb envisions the programs growing and evolving, moving into delivery of graphics like weather maps, charts and news pictures, perhaps even offering moving images. "We see computers becoming more like TVs and TVs becoming more like computers. At some point they are going to blend. You'll be able to request video news reports from a menu at your own convenience. That's all blue sky, of course, but it is coming closer," Webb says.
- IF TELETEXT/VIDEOTEX really catches on, will it make any other media, and especially the newspapers, obsolete? Not likely. No medium ever displaces another. Competing media have to change and adapt, as radio and newspapers and the movies all have done to compete with TV. Best guess: newspapers will have to offer even more detail, interpretation and entertainment.
A couple of years ago I complained about a U.S. News and World Report story on the closing of military bases. The magazine story had used Fort Douglas as an egregious example of pork-barrel politics, saying it was established in 1862 to protect gold shipments from California.
Technically the story was correct. But it is wrongheaded to suggest that the base didn't continue to have other vital roles up to the present day.
Since the media are incestuous in picking up "facts" and clues from one another, it shouldn't be too surprising that the same example, same line, same emphasis appeared in Newsweek's story March 9 about base closings.
On the other hand, it was a pleasure to see that the press reports on Richard Lamm's speech at Utah State University late last month avoided the repetition of a "media fact" that had become almost scandalous.
Lamm is the former Colorado governor still thought of in the public mind as the fellow who told old folks to drop dead, as press reports of a speech he gave to older persons had it. Actually Lamm had complained in the speech about a health care system that kept terminally ill old people alive in pain or degradation; he suggested money spent on high-tech equipment for this purpose could be better used to help younger people.
I like the Tribune report from Logan that kept Lamm's views in perspective. A key quote: "Should we continue to give chemotherapy to an 85-year-old with serious cancer? Are we doing that person any favor?"
Truth in politics
KSL-TV is the first of the Salt Lake media to announce this year that it will be monitoring political ads through a "truth test." Says Lee Roderick, the news director: "We will analyze the accuracy and fairness of campaign advertisements used, especially by candidates for governor, senator, the three congressional seats and attorney general." KSL is asking candidates to consent to the use of their ads on the air for the "truth test" segments.
Sounds good. Since monitoring the political ads is an idea whose time has come (Media Monitor Feb. 17), I expect to see the other media do much the same.
KSL also is promising to base its coverage of the candidates "on what the voters say the issues are, not on what the candidates say they are, "based on a Dan Jones survey. That's revolutionary. It should be useful and interesting.