New York — Information Please, 1981 style, doesn't come cheaply. As a matter of fact, the price is around $5 per hour. It seems that as Columbus goes, so goes the world of home video.Warner Amex Cable Communications continues to make QUBE subscribers in Columbus, Ohio, the recipients of the newest technical advances in the wonderful world of telecommunications.Only the other day, QUBE announced a new "information retrieval" system which will give its 30,000 subscribers the opportunity to gain access to a whole new world of easy information.
Why QUBE? It's simple -- the system owners -- Warner Amex Cable Communications (a mix of Warners and American Express) -- use the "middle-American" QUBE cable system subscribers as guinea pigs in a never-ending search for future moneymaking cable services.
So what if Warner Amex has already lost more than $30 million on its QUBE experiments? Long-range plans call for the parent company to start making hundreds of millions of dollars per year in about 10 years, when two-way capability systems are expected to turn into veritable money machines. That's why the new and amazing services come and sometimes go. Qubists have seen such innovations as narrowcast town meetings, library lending services, remote banking, etc.
So while futurist planners at Warner Amex wait for the profit-taking time to start one of these years, lucky Columbus residents get a chance to pay minimal prices for some rather interesting experimental TV services.
The latest was inaugurated on Thursday -- an information retrieval service that enables QUBE subscribers at home to retrieve a variety of consumer information directly from data banks, including electronic pages from the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Using an Atari 800 personal computer (Atari is also a Warner company, specializing in electronic games, by the way), several varieties of interactive information services were made accesssible -- such as the latest news, weather and sports, food recipes and shopping tips, computer games, football scores and schedules, movie reviews and, believe it or not, astrological charts. All the subscriber has to do is touch the right keys and his home is converted into an information center with the information "menu" (as it is called) cross-indexed for easy access. This "Compu- Serve" service is available between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. weekdays and all day and night on weekends. Cost to subscribers: $5 per hour.
And if you were also wondering why this new development is being introduced right now: Well, Warner Amex wants to call attention to the fact that QUBE interactive facilities are currently being constructed in Pittsburgh, Houston, Dallas, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. Warner Amex operates more than 150 systems in 29 states and serves around 800,000 subscribers.
They want you to know all that and become completely aware that they are a forward-thinking company.
They especially want you to have all this in your mind when chances are one of these days soon they will be knocking at the door of your mayor or city cable franchise committee, requesting the exclusive cable franchise for your own home town. Teletext, videotext, cabletext
Even though many people's eyes glaze over as soon as anything more complex than turning the on-off dial of their TV sets is discussed, you might as well start storing up a bit of information about the information storage systems which will inevitably become part of your life in the very near future.
Tomorrow, that is.
There are various kinds of information retrieval systems which are beginning to operate under different convoluted names. The systems may use cable, over-the-air broadcasting, telephone wires, or merely computer storage systems. Most of the systems we are beginning to see now, however, display their information on ordinary television screens equipped with decoders to allow access.
The words "access" and "retrieve," by the way, are key words in the lexicon of teletext. Their meanings in the context of teletext are obvious -- the information industry "accesses" information for your "retrieval" (if you insist upon being a stickler for "old-fashioned" grammer -- "when you are granted access, you may retrieve").
How does it all work? Well, there are many variations, but basically, in the case of broadcast teletext, information is stored in a computer at a TV station. A decoder attached to your set allows you to select the pages of information you wish, which are then transmitted in a normal television signal to your screen, where they may appear on a separate channel or, depending upon the system, one of your already existing channels.
The use of cable systems and telephone wires are also the basis of other information systems.England and France have already moved ahead with their own systems. In this country, Oak, Zenith, Warner Amex and American Television Communications, CBS, and several other companies are already in the information business or preparing to go into it quickly. In some cases, newspapers themselves ar e cooperating or even investing in this new technology.