TELEVISION--PROGRESS AND PROMISE
AN ADDRESS BY
ANDREW N. McLELLAN,
DIRECTOR OF TELEVISION, ACADEMY OF RADIO ARTS, TORONTO
Chairman: The President, Mr. H. G. Colebrook
Thursday, October 6th, 1949
The subject to be discussed by our Guest Speaker, namely, "Television--Progress and Promise", is one which I assume is of great interest to all.
There are those who believe that if Private Enterprise had had a free hand to develop this new Industry that we should have been much further along the road of accomplishment in Canada than we find ourselves today.
Mr. McLellan has for several years been studying this very interesting, new scientific achievement in both Canada and the United States--he has lectured at Queen's University and the University of Toronto on the subject and written many articles.
He has been referred to as "one of the few Canadian authorities on the subject of Television Broadcasting".
It gives me much pleasure to introduce Mr. Andrew McLellan.
Television is not only a very fascinating topic but also a very complex one, and so all I can hope to accomplish within the brief time allotted to me today is to give you the highlights of its development and potentialities.
But before we begin to get involved in an appraisal of the progress and promise of television broadcasting, we should perhaps ask ourselves one very simple but, nonetheless, very vital question. What is television?
Well, I don't suppose many of us would come up with the same answer to this question, but I'm certain we would all have something to offer for television has become a household word in Canada even in spite of apparent disinterest on the parts of its guardians. We might go so far as to say that television in Canada has actually become conspicuous by its absence. When I say "absence" I mean, of course, lack of active participation in the medium. It is true, we do have television in Canada, but strictly by remote control.
The late Roly Young, Columnist, Toronto Globe & Mail, once defined television as "something to put on a radio so that folks can see things are really as bad as they heard they were". This may (or may not) be a somewhat accurate description of most television south of the border, but let us employ a more realistic and academic approach. Literally, the word television means "seeing at a distance". Technically, television may be defined as the "instantaneous transmission of still or moving images by electronic means, containing sufficient detail for entertainment or informative purposes". Historically, television means the fulfilment of man's age-old longing to see beyond the horizon, through obstacles and to be in more than one place at the same instant. Sociologically, television possesses the potentiality of being the most effective means for human enlightenment, education and propaganda that human intellect has yet devised. Psychologically, the simultaneous transmission of sight impressions with associated sound impressions constitutes communication in its truest sense, for sight and sound together make up the most fundamental avenue of communication to the human mind. Therefore, since radio is "blind" it is perhaps more accurate to say that it is an incomplete form of television, rather than that television is merely an improvement on radio. That very few radio people agree with such a conclusion shouldn't be too surprising.
The basic idea behind television is certainly not new. We have mentioned man's longing to see beyond the horizon, through obstacles, and to be in more than one place at the same instant. Within the realm of fancy an unknown Persian perhaps was the first to dream of television as we know it today. In a favorite Arabian Nights story he told of a magic tube in which a love-sick Prince of India could see his beloved, however far away she might be. But since modern television is essentially an electronic process, as well as an artistic medium of expression, its development, quite logically, has followed hand-in-hand with the evolution of electricity and the science of the electron. Certain fundamental scientific discoveries had to be made before it could come within the realm of practical devices.
Many historians conclude that television got its first practical start nearly 75 years ago, in 1875, when G. R. Carey, an American, designed a television system which closely imitated the human eye. Other historians disagree, and as one who has devoted considerable energy to historical research of the medium, I can assure that few other sciences or arts have been plagued with so many inconsistencies and differences of opinion, to say nothing of conflicting claims of priority. Eventually Russia will probably lay full claim to television and settle any doubts we may have.
However, I do want to make it clear that practical television is not nearly as new as most people seem to believe, nor is it an exclusive invention of the United States of America. Since the early 1800s, scientists and inventors in Europe (particularly in Great Britain) as well as in America have made countless significant and essential contributions toward its development.
Following the turn of the century a well defined pattern for future development was soon established. Early television devices, principally mechanical in nature, produced only very crude images. In 1911, an Englishman named A. A. Campbell-Swinton hit upon the essentials of modern electronic television, but only theoretically. By this time the phonograph and telephone had been invented, Marconi had sent and received the first wireless telegraphy signals, and Thomas Edison had filmed the first motion picture.
In 1926, John Logie Baird, the Scottish inventive genius and television pioneer, demonstrated the first transmission of "real" images between one point and another. According to the London Times it was the first time in history that "actual" television had been demonstrated. Said the Times= "No one but this Scottish minister's son has ever transmitted and received a recognizable image with its gradation of light and shade."
American recognition of the achievement was contained in an editorial which appeared in Radio News of that year.
"Mr. Baird has definitely and indisputably given a demonstration of real television. It is the first time in history that this has been done in any part of the world."
The following year (1927) the American Telephone and Telegraph Company transmitted images between New York and Washington using ordinary telephone wires as the carrier. Baird accomplished a similar transmission between London and Glasgow.
In 1936 the British Broadcasting Corporation opened television studios in Alexandra Palace, London, and a regular daily service-the first in the worlt-was maintained in England until the outbreak of the war. Prior to 1939 television had also been introduced in France, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Japan.
In the United States television has been comparatively active since 1929, but it was not until 1941 when the government authorized commercial operations, that the industry got its real start. However, it was short-lived for the following year America was also in the war and was compelled to curtail further expansion. Although the war greatly retarded the commercial development of television, from the technical standpoint it advanced the medium many years. Even under the restrictions of wartime outstanding progress was achieved for greatly expanded electronic research brought forth many new developments applicable to this infant prodigy. And it should not be overlooked that television itself made a notable contribution to the winning of the war by giving incentive to such inventions as radar, the television bomb and pilotless aircraft.
Shortly after the end of the war the BBC resumed its Television Service in Britain. There were approximately 20,000 receivers in operation in the London area prior to 1946, the majority of which were pre-war models. This meant that the BBC was compelled to provide a service of pre-war standard in order that existing sets would not become immediately obsolete. But at the same time it was realized that a greatly improved post-war standard was inevitable and necessary. The change-over is not yet completed for it is being carried out very gradually so as to cause as little loss and inconvenience as possible.
The quality of British television programs has, for the most part been consistently high. Perhaps this has been partly due to the absence of commercialism. It may also be due to the fact that the BBC has been blessed with a reasonably adequate budget for its Television Service, made up from receiving set license fees and a governmental grant. However, to my mind the outstanding success of BBC television programming has been largely due to an inherent fearless enthusiasm and unfrustrated ambition. British television producers have been allowed tremendous latitude to try new program ideas and to develop new and distinctive techniques of presentation. In other words, they have succeeded in accomplishing "real" television!
Since V-J Day television has made phenomenal progress in the United States. In 1946 there were only six commercial stations in operation (three of which were in New York City) and approximately 10,000 receivers in use. Today there are more than eighty commercial stations from coast-to-coast, with over two million receivers in use. By 1953 it is anticipated that there will be at least 400 stations and 15,000,000 receivers in operation.
American television is no longer confined to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles as it was just three short years ago. Stations have been established in nearly every State of the Union, and network facilities, so essential to full commercial operations, have practically become national in scope.
It is significant to me that nearly every major advertiser in the U.S. is now using television in less or greater degree. Last year over $10,000,000 was spent by more than 700 advertisers in the medium. This year the total is expected to exceed $25,000,000, with over 1000 participating advertisers. This is indeed a sharp contrast to the mere 160 sponsors that used television during 1947. Nevertheless, television certainly has a long way to go before it equals the $447,000,000 that went in American radio advertising in 1947.
Whether or not commercialism is a good thing for television I am not prepared to discuss today. Someone must naturally pay the bills, and if it isn't the commercial sponsor then it will have to be the consumer. I doubt very much if the American public would ever take kindly to a $10 or $25 a year license fee, such as is being proposed for this country. And, furthermore, I doubt whether such a fee would even begin to provide sufficient revenue to maintain the 2000 potential American television stations.
The consumer already pays approximately half the cost of all advertising as it is, but he does so in a way which is indirect and, for the most part, painless to him. His present obligation ends when he buys his radio or television receiver, newspaper or magazine copy. Whether or not he responds to the advertiser's message is purely voluntary and it is a gamble every advertiser must of necessity accept.
It has been thoroughly established that television delivers greater sales impact than any other advertising media, since it combines sight plus sound, plus action, plus entertainment. Contrary to common belief television set ownership is predominantly in the middle or lower income groups. This makes it a mass medium and present television markets already account for over 40% of annual U.S. retail sales.
The Ford Motor Company, which is one of America's biggest advertisers, has dropped its radio appropriations this year in favor of television. Why? Because television, generally, provides the lowest cost method of actual product demonstration. For example, the average demonstration expense of an automobile in a showroom is $4.12 as compared to 1.6c for which the car can now be demonstrated over television.
Perhaps American television is not a true or even encouraging example of what the medium can and will one day be. With but few exceptions the programming has been very poor. The broadcaster claims that it has been due to lack of commercial revenue, and the public places the blame on too much commercialism. Both arguments may have equal merit, but I believe the reason is primarily due to the lack of fearless enthusiasm and unfrustrated ambition that I previously refered to as being so vital a part of British television programming.
Television is by no means limited to the spheres of entertainment and advertising. Its applications to industry, commerce, education and medicine are every bit as promising as they are prodigious.
In industry, television can perform a great many functions, such as:
Traffic Control-In manufacturing processes where production line or mass assembly methods are employed, a number of remote camera units can be utilized at 'key control points' and each monitored at a central control station, from which telephone instructions and directions can be given.
Time-Study Observation--Remote observation of individual production methods and operations can be carried out by locating camera units at prescribed points.
Remote Inspection and Control--The use of fixed-focus cameras in laboratories and at critical points in production lines to facilitate inspection of materials and observation of processes and gauges in locations where explosive materials or dangerous cases make it impractical for workers to perform such functions.
It is of interest to note that during the Atom Bomb test at Bikini (and elsewhere), television cameras were located on the Atol and provided a close-up observation of the immediate effects of the explosion, which was monitored in the control warship five miles at sea. Also, at the Wright Aeronautics Laboratories, television cameras are being used to observe the testing of new aircraft engines, where the danger of explosion and mechanical mishap is quite high.
In commerce television has also proved itself to be of promising value. Two or three banks in the United States and in Britain are currently using television for such functions as signature verification and the prompt inspection of documents which may be stored in vaults several miles from the bank head-office or branches. The latter use is of particular importance to banks in such cities as London and New York where storage space is at a premium and overhead costs are so high.
If the old adage that "seeing is believing" is as true as most of us regard it to be then in the field of education television promises to render its greatest service to man kind. I refer not only to education in the classroom, but to education in the home as well. Television will be our "showroom" to the world. It will take us on journeys to strange lands and introduce us to the peoples of the earth. It will enable us to visit the great museums and art galleries without even leaving the comfort of our homes. In the classroom television will help to extend the well established value of audio-visual teaching techniques.
In the field of medicine-surgery, physiotherapy, and phychiatry--it is already well realized what a great part television can and will play in teaching and administering these sciences. Guy's Hospital in London recently set the pace by installing the first permanent hospital television system in the world. In 1939 a medical operation was televised from a hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Since that time many such demonstrations have taken place, including one early this year before members of the Canadian Medical Association at their annual convention in Saskatoon. However, the most noteworthy demonstrations, to date, of televised surgery were those accomplished recently in full color.
By suspending a television camera (and a microphone) over the operating-table it is possible to permit any number of medical students and doctors to view an operation at close-range. They are thereby able to intimately observe every detail of the surgeon's technique and skill, and at the same time, are able to hear every syllable of his instructions and directions.
A large hospital presently under construction in Washington, D.C. has formulated very extensive plans for the use of television in the treatment and observation of mental cases, as well as surgery. Cameras will be strategically located throughout the wards for remote observation of the patient's behaviour and film recordings will be made of what the camera sees for consultation and study purposes, and for circulation to other medical institutions throughout the world.
Television has also been used with promising success in department store merchandising. Store traffic can be routed to certain counters or departments by installing receivers through which specially prepared demonstrations and "attention getting" displays are viewed by the prospective customers. The operating cost of such a system will be very reasonable and the equipment involved permits the store to originate its own commercials for broadcasting over local stations.
(Other uses of television include its utilization in traffic safety, the guarding of asylums and prison corridors, underwater exploration and as an aid to motion picture production procedure.)
Motion picture interests have been experimenting with large-screen theatre television for several years. Equipment has been perfected that will throw an image of comparable size and clarity to movie film. Recently such equipment was installed in a number of theatres in the United States, and nearly every major theatre circuit is planning to make such installations just as soon as relay transmission standards are formulated and equipment is available. In London, theatre television has been in use since as early as 1930. Here in Canada, Famous Players Canadian Corporation has been planning a theatre system for several years, and early this year announced that they would soon install such equipment in their local Imperial Theatre.
A theatre television system makes it possible to bring to patrons special events and remote programs, such as sports events, parades, fires, spot news and civic functions. If downtown Toronto theatres had been equipped with theatre television at the time of the recent Noronic steamship disaster, theatre patrons could have been provided with an on-the-spot, exciting and timely coverage of the event the same day it happened. One New York television station (WPIX) flew a newsreel cameraman to Toronto on the morning of the fire and had the films back in New York and on the air by 9 o'clock that evening. (The newsreel companies didn't have scenes of the disaster on local screens for four or five days.)
Now a word about color television. The first hint of the possibility of being able to telecast in color was produced by John Logie Baird as long ago as 1928. Since that time a great deal of research has gone on and numerous color systems have been advanced. Today, color television is a practical reality and awaits only official authorization. The Federal Communications Commission in the United States is currently holding hearings on the prospective development and introduction of color television, and will subsequently decide upon the type of system and transmission standards to be employed. The value of color in television will be apparent to everyone.
What about television in Canada? As soon as anyone discovers that you have any connection with the medium this is the first question they ask and, unfortunately, it's a question to which anyone who is outside the so-called "inner circle" cannot give a very definite answer. As a matter of fact, I sometimes wonder whether or not anyone in this country really knows what to expect so far as television is concerned--including those who should know. Interest has been running hot and cold for several years but very little action, if any, has been taken to give television to the Canadian public, even on an experimental basis.
In 1939, Mr. Leonard W. Brockington, K.C., at that time chairman of the board of governors of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said
"So far as the Board of Governors of the CBC is concerned, its present policy is not to alienate from the public domain any broadcasting rights in television to privately-owned stations or other profit-making concerns! The CBC is fully alive to the desirability of providing for the Canadian public a television service as soon as the necessary expenditures come within the bounds of the practicable."
This was an official attitude or, if you prefer, condition, that was to prevail in Canada for at least another decade.
There can be little doubt that the CBC has certainly dictated the television policy in this country since 1936. Of course it was given constitutional authority to do so, and it has merely taken full advantage of such authority. It is true, of course, that the Corporation has not had sufficient finances to enter the field itself, but it has selfishly discouraged others from doing so.
Said general manager, Dr. Augustin Frigon, in 1946: "We are firmly of the opinion that television has not yet reached the point where it is ready for use in Canada because of the financial requirements involved. Anybody could experiment with television in Canada on a laboratory scale. A lot of people could have been experimenting with television in studios, but nothing has been done to our knowledge in the field of such experimenting."
There is little doubt in my mind as to why nothing has been done outside the CBC. The private broadcasters were not willing to risk their monies in pioneering a field in which they could not even be assured free competition, absolute security and respect for prior rights.
It is interesting to note at this point that in 1932 (four years before the CBC came into being) there were at least seven licensed experimental television transmitters in Canada, located from British Columbia to Quebec.
Within the past two years the CBC has three times considered applications for television station licenses from a number of private concerns, and each time deferred or cancelled the applications. The board of governors indicated that it believed Canada should not lag behind in television, but that television channels should be used only in the public interest. Apparently only the CBC could operate in the public interest. Chairman of the board, A Davidson Dunton said
"We are not holding anybody up. There are a limited number of channels to be alloted. There are only three channels in Toronto (and) one of them is reserved for the national system".
Commenting on the CBC's decision to 'indefinitely postpone' the establishment of public or privately-owned television stations, Toronto Saturday Night perhaps expressed the feelings of many Canadians
"In Canada some private broadcasters are financially equipped to install television transmitters, whereas the CBC is not--the Corporation would like to run the show, as indeed it must do if television is to have any sort of cultural significance. On the other hand, the CBC cannot block the aspirations of private enterprise indefinitely without earning for itself a reputation for capriciousness and tyranny".
As the situation stands today, the CBC is soon to be granted a government loan of $4,500,000 for the purpose of establishing one station in Toronto, and one in Montreal. It is anticipated that these stations will be in operation sometime next year. In the meantime the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (popularly known as the Massey Commission) is holding hearings on the question of television in Canada, but these largely concern future policy and development and will probably not influence the situation for some time to come.
One of the main issues at stake so far as the Massey Commission is concerned is should the authority over radio and television be divorced from the CBC and be placed in the hands of an independent regulatory body. In other words, should radio and television in Canada be re-established on a free, competitive basis. Private enterprise naturally thinks they should. So does a large percentage of the Canadian public. It is impossible to even surmise what the final decision will be, but let us not be too surprised if the CBC continues to get its way.
Just where and when the private broadcasters, and others, will figure into the television picture in Canada is anybody's guess at the present time. The present government policy is to permit one private station in each centre where the CBC establishes a station, and in any other area which the CBC itself does not want. This, of course, could mean areas that can only support a subsidiary service.
Television is regarded by many as a combination of the theatre, motion pictures and radio, but in the final analysis it is far more than the sum total of all three. Television is an artistic medium of expression in its own right, and while it can learn much from the other art forms, it also has a very distinctive and individual contribution to make on its own.
There is a certain intimacy and spontaneity to television that is not truly inherent in any other medium. For this reason, television is the most sincere and honest means of expression known to man. I doubt whether anyone present here today would be unwilling to believe that the arts (and sciences) have influenced human behaviour in less or greater degree since man's creation. From the time the first word was spoken, the first musical note sounded, man has been subjected to every known form of emotion, persuasion and abuse. Surely then, if television is the most effective means for human enlightenment, education and propaganda that the world has ever known, it must be utilized with a keen sense of responsibility and trust.
In closing, I would like to read you what I consider to be the most eloquent and sincere evaluation of television that has thus far been written. In the words of Brigadier David Sarnoff, chairman of the board, Radio Corporation of America
"Television, I believe, is destined to provide greater knowledge to larger numbers of people, truer perception of the meaning of current events, more accurate appraisal of men in public life, and broader understanding of the needs and aspirations of our fellow human beings. It also marks a beginning, I trust, of greater appreciation of the gifts of music and musicians, of art and artists, of drama and actors, and more opportunities for laughter and social companionship. It brings a beginning, I hope, of a deeper sense of spiritual values, a keener appraisal of truth, a higher development of the individuals and a wider devotion to the ideals of the free peoples of the earth. We have learned to believe in the miracles of science. Television is such a miracle. But television, if it is to fulfil its highest purpose, must begin where science leaves off and bring about new miracles, not only in machines but also in men--miracles to which the human heart as well as the human mind must contribute".