Practical Solutions Communication Two-Way Television

About a practical proposal for the use of television as a means of two-way communication.



Television Can Be Two-Way Conversation

The Woodlands is a new community of approximately 4,000 people outside Houston, Tex. About 850 of its residents are subscribers to the Woodlands cable TV system. Like several other cable TV systems which are cropping up in communities all over the U.S., the one in The Woodlands is a two-way system whereby home viewers can register their reaction to programs through their channel selector. Each number of the channel selector represents a code announced before the program begins. The responses are automatically fed into the computer at the cable TV station. But the system in The Woodlands is the only one in the U.S. that has been used for on-the-spot opinion polling. During community meetings, where issues are discussed by local officials and politicians, the audience response is shown on a screen every five or 10 minutes at the meeting itself. It is a successful two-way conversation by means of which the public is able to give a prompt response to whatever issues it may agree or disagree with.

A typical meeting may go something like this. Before the meeting begins, the station announces the code to be used: channel 2 means "approve"; channel 4 means "disapprove"; channel 6 means "talk faster, provide less detail"; channel 9 means "talk slower, provide more detail, important issue'; channel 11 means "change the subject"; and channel 13 means "talk louder." When the speaker notes on the screen that 60% of the viewers disagree with what he or she is saying, the speaker will usually try to explain what he or she has said in a manner geared toward audience opinion. Similarly, the speaker will change the subject if the audience indicates the topic is uninteresting or unimportant, and will provide more time and detail to issues the audience wants to hear about.

The Woodlands cable TV system has also made a breakthrough in obtaining emergency aid service for its subscribers. Each home with the cable is automatically wired to the local fire department, police department, and emergency medical aid unit. These public safety services are obtained through using a standard channel selector designated for the specific emergency. Since the system has been in use, there hasn't been one successful burglary in homes with the cable. The two local insurance carriers have reduced their fees to policy owners with the cable by 25%.

The installation fee for the cable is $300, and there is a monthly service charge of $5. Tocom Industries of Houston is currently the only manufacturer of the computer mechanism used in the Woodlands system. But it seems likely that the idea will be spreading throughout the U.S., and that the benefits more than justify the cost.

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