retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Yesterday was an important day in American cultural history. (And no, not for the reason that everybody else is saying that yesterday was important.)

Forty four years ago yesterday, a little premium/pay cable channel debuted. It was called Home Box Office. The programming consisted largely of old movies, sports, and a little bit of original programming, such as a comedy show featuring Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

According to the TV Worth Watching website (which is really good, by the way, for people interested in such things), the first film to run when HBO began was Sometimes a Great Notion, based on a novel by Ken Kesey and starring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda; it was followed by "live transmission of a NHL hockey game from Madison Square Garden between the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks."

From those modest beginnings (and they were modest ... I worked on a TV show in New York in 1973-74, and we shot some of our shows in a tiny studio that gave no hint of how big and influential the channel would get), HBO has simply changed the TV business ... largely by offering differentiated content (the entertainment industry's version of private label) such as "The Sopranos," "Game of Thrones," and "Sex In The City." Content, as it ends up, that consumers were hungry for ... and that paved the way for other entities - from Netflix to Amazon - to produce their own differentiated content.

(The Washington Post has a great story about this, entitled "America has never had so much TV, and even Hollywood is overwhelmed", that talks about this trend. It is worth reading.)

The growth of HBO - and the way in which it often has tapped into the public zeitgeist, coming up with programs that go beyond mere entertainment and become cultural phenomena - can serve as a metaphor and lesson for many businesses.

It all started 44 years ago. And it remains an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: