Perhaps the most ambitious
videotex trial in the United States, Viewtron was a joint venture of
Knight-Ridder newspapers, AT&T and other minor partners including
Scripps-Howard and McClatchy newspapers.
The partners formed Viewdata Corporation of
America, which began market trials in Coral Gables, Fla., an upscale
suburb of Miami, in 1980. The commercial service was launched in South
Florida (Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties) on October 30,
1983. The emphasis was on consumer products, like weather, banking and
from Knight-Ridder's Miami Herald and the Associated Press was the heart
of the service. Eight local schools provided neighborhoods news. Other
items included local sports, police reports, news from local colleges and
universities, neighborhood calendars and biographies of prominent locals.
Viewtron was displayed on television sets through
the use of Sceptre terminals, which were manufactured by AT&T and included
a built-in 1,200-baud modem and infrared keyboard.
was a problem. To use the service, viewers had to buy the Sceptre
Terminal. At launch, they cost $900 and were reduced to $600 when demand
was soft. Further, a subscription in Miami cost $12 a month, plus long
distance phone charges, if any. There also were additional charges for
Hallmark Cards (electronic mail) of $2 per card or 50 cents for
stationery. After May, 1984, the partners gave up trying to sell the
Sceptre Terminals and changed the pricing system to be $39.95 a month
including terminal rental.
company had predicted 5,000 subscribers by the end of the first year in
operation. Only half
that number was achieved with the company recording some $16 million in
its meager success, Viewtron expanded to include all of Florida in 1984
and to other U.S. cities by 1985. At its height, Viewtron was operated in
at least 15 cities by various newspaper companies: Miami, Philadelphia,
San Jose, Detroit, Charlotte and St. Paul by Knight-Ridder and in
Baltimore, Boston, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Seattle, New Orleans,
Portland, Cleveland and Newark by other newspaper companies including
Newhouse and Capital Cities.
an investment reportedly in excess of $50 million, Viewtron closed in
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