Chicago, far behind in getting cable TV, is test market for two new television services

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In some ways - but only some - Chicago is behind in the television age. The nation's second-largest city has yet to tune in to cable TV. The City Council next month is expected to debate contracts for cable television in the city.

On the other hand, two new television services have decided that Chicago is just the place to start up.

TeleFirst began this month to offer music, movies, and cultural and children's programs. For a $75 installation fee plus $25.95 monthly, subscribers with videocassette recorders receive the broadcasts and a decoding unit that allows them to unscramble the signal. Subscribers can replay the recorded broadcasts at their convenience. The movie offerings are available generally three to seven months ahead of other television services.

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Chicago is the first market for Telefirst, a subsidiary of ABC Video Enterprises Inc. Installation begins this week.

Last week, 17 counties around Chicago (though not the city itself) began hooking into direct satellite-to-home broadcasting. This is only the second area in the country where such service is available.

Customers in Indianapolis were so receptive to it that the company, United Satellite Communications Inc. (USCI), launched the Chicago service months ahead of schedule, the company says.

Movies, sports events, children's shows, and other programming are being shown. The cost: $39.95 monthly plus an installation fee of $300 for a small dish antenna. Incidentally, the size of the satellite dish has been reduced and is sometimes as small as a bicycle wheel.

Why have these new technologies come to Chicago so early?

From a marketing standpoint, the area is ideal, company officials say. It has little cable television, a large number of single-family homes, a good mix of population, and a high percentage of people who own videocassette recorders.

''Chicago for us was a very natural choice,'' says Arthur I. Cohen, president of TeleFirst. ''The data feel sturdy.''

And research shows that people in the Chicago area ''are interested in products that have to do with new technologies and new products,'' adds Edina Gillmor, public affairs director for USCI.

Already last fall, Chicago became the nation's first city with commercial mobile telephone service using cellular radio technology. There, too, officials at Ameritech Mobile Communications Inc. have been singing the praises of Chicago.

''I see Chicago as a city that will accept new technologies that make sense, '' says Paul R. Gudonis, marketing vice-president of Ameritech. ''I think Chicagoans are a sensible people.''

So far, Ameritech has signed up more than 5,000 customers, which is on the high end of the company's projections, Mr. Gudonis says.

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