While I loved to spend my time fantasizing and being creative, like all teenagers, musing about “what if” in my life, or in the world – I was also attracted to the pro-active creativity of invention and the use of modern science to create new technologies and products of value that consumers and/or businesses will want, or need.
Since necessity is the mother of Invention, I started to think about the 30-million cable customers whose cable systems were still “dumb” and non-addressable, like my Theta/Century/Adelphia cable system of the day that could not in those days cost-effectively control the scrambling and de-scrambling of individual cable channels to secure a Pay Per View Event broadcast into an individual home.
So, I created the “Electronic Ticket” in 1982. At the time, there were few “addressable” cable TV set-top boxes installed in cable homes that could transmit and decode a Pay-Per-View event.
Cable operators secured their Pay-TV signals by scrambling HBO and other Pay TV Movie Channels at the cable head-end by adding an “interfering signal” to the channel that confused the cable subscriber’s TV set, which could not sync up to and properly display the channel.
If you pay the monthly fee for the Pay-TV channels, then the cable company will install a Signal “Trap” at the cable connection outside your home to remove the interfering signal from the Pay-TV channels you subscribe to, so your TV can sync up to properly display the cleared channel.
As the dreamer that I always was, I thought that I could improve upon that business model by bringing Event Programming to the 30+ non-addressable cable TV market: using a domino-sized battery-powered Electronic Ticket (notch filter) in the home to “decode” the scrambled cable-signals to enable authorized subscribers to watch pay-per-view programs on cable.
I formed InterActive Media, Inc. (IAMI) to develop the product with the manufacturer and patent-owner of the original Signal “Trap”: Tanner Electronic Systems (TEST). Coming after the founder had died, the company was going bankrupt, so I worked directly with Tanner’s co-inventor of the original Trap, Bruno Rist.
Bruno and I teamed up with Pay Per View expert, Rick Kulis. Bruno developed developed this early version of the Electronic Ticket technology as the next generation signal-injection and notch-filter signal-removal system.
In place of Tanner’s company, we signed an “Electronic Ticket” development contract with RF Monolithics, the leader in surface acoustic wave SAW technology. SAW devices could produce extremely deep but narrow-band notch-filters the size of a dime that we planned to assemble into battery-powered domino-sized “Electronic Tickets” for sale in local convenience stores and grocery stores. Consumers could then take these disposable “Electronic Tickets” home and insert them into the Media Box attached between the cable and the TV set to clear the scrambled channel for viewing.
We got a lot of traction and entered negotiations and due diligence with Getty Oil Executive Stuart Evey (who financed ESPN’s launch three years earlier and was looking to implement Pay-Per-View Events for ESPN), but we ended up signing a development contract instead with 20th Century Fox Pay-TV President Andrew Wald See Page 101 of the .pdf to develop the Electronic Ticket for 20th Century Fox’s new Pay-Per-View business.
And then everything fell apart. But that was not the end of the Electronic Ticket project…
In 1984, after the failure of the Electronic Ticket, I met my wife, Sally, got married and raised three awesome boys Brian, Eric and Alex (and his wife, Jackelyn, our daughter-in-law).
TickeTV and International TeleSystems, Inc (ITSI)
In 1986, after I created the 1-800-DECODE-1 telephone service to leverage my entrance into the Satellite TV decoding business– I formed International TeleSystems, Inc. with movie producer and industrialist Stephen Dart to develop my HomeSat TV product line of robot-arm controlled 6-10 foot diameter satellite dishes.
Years before DirecTV and Dish Network took flight, there was a satellite war in the USA, when more and more people were buying more and more inexpensive 6-10-foot round home satellite dishes that enabled TV viewers at home to intercept and decode the satellite signals being sent to Cable System receivers and Broadcast TV affiliates.
Steve Dart was active in the movie and TV business, with projects signed to Columbia Pictures and Paramount Pictures; and he was the son of Justin Dart, who built the Rexall Drug Store chain and Dart Industries empire of iconic brands still sold today: Tupperware, Duracell, West Bend Housewares and Kraft Foods. Dart senior was a good friend and member of President Ronald Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet.”
Unfortunately, our intended satellite business was about to become obsolete by the advent of high powered Ku-Band DBS Direct Broadcast Satellites that need only a small 18-inch satellite dish that we could not compete against.
While we may have lost the satellite wars, the one success I brought to TeleSystems was our corporate investment in and control of a satellite-TV installation network, called Digitron (www.Digitron.net) that survives to this day, with over 2,700 affilaites and 15,000 engineers. When Digitron received the exclusive contract from Radio Shack to install their DBS satellite systems, we licensed my 1-800-DECODE-1 telephone descrambling number to Radio Shack, and later to SelecTV.
Meanwhile, International TeleSystems went back to the drawing board — and revived the Electronic Ticket business plan. And I gave the product a new name: TickeTV.
Instead of concentrating on the 30-million non-addressable Cable TV homes for PPV pay-per-view movie and event programming, the partners of International TeleSystems concentrated on low-cost international VHF and UHF over-the-air broadcasters seeking to configure their networks for generating Pay-TV revenues.
As CEO of International TeleSystems, Stephen Dart built an incredible board of directors for the company and our efforts overseas:
- Andre Blay was the founder of the VHS Rental Industry that spawned Blockbuster and corner video rental stores.
- Arthur Price was head of MTM Enterprises Producer of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.
And yes, the George Bush listed on Page 97 in this .pdf of the May 1989 issue of Broadcasting Magazine is the George W. Bush who, years later, was elected Governor of Texas and the 43rd President of United States (on my first board of directors). Wow. With our re-focus on TickeTV, International TeleSystems hired Bruno Rist, who, with Adrian Devries, improved upon the original notch-filter technology, for which new patents were granted.
NEW ZEALAND TV DEMONSTRATION & NUMBER 10 DOWNING STREET VISIT
In 1988 and 1989 TeleSystems formed a partnership with Television New Zealand to develop the TickeTV system for New Zealand broadcasters to bring Pay-TV and pay-per-view to the large number of New Zealand homes not served by cable TV.
At a time before the historical record of the Internet – we made TV history by scrambling the New Zealand TV station and decoding it miles away, over the air, using the TickeTV interfering-carrier pay-TV technology.
With our New Zealand demonstration in development, Steve Dart and I went to London for meetings with top government ministers in the Margaret Thatcher administration. With the political connections we had, we were given VIP entry to the iconic Number 10 Downing Street building. In England, Number 10 Downing Street is the equivalent of America’s White House: where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher lived and worked with her cabinet ministers.
What seemed crazy to me at the time, is that I literally wheeled around a large foot-locker, filled with electronic scrambling and TV display equipment that I used to demonstrate our TickeTV scrambling and unscrambling system in real-time to prospective customers. Can you imagine, after suffering IRA bombings and future mortar attacks, that the guards at the outside entrance to Number 10 Downing Street, and the guards inside, failed to search my foot-locker for a potential bomb! If anything looked suspicious, it should have been all the electronic, equipment, blinking lights and wires in my footlocker – but they I guess we were on the “Trusted” Do-Not-Search list!
We did not meet Mrs. Thatcher, but we did meet her assistants and chief technology advisers. The Thatcher government was interested in scrambling the BBC during the late night when it was off-air, and after what we were doing in New Zealand, the British government seemed interested in our TickeTV scrambling technology.
But ultimately, England went with its own homegrown scrambling technology for their overnight BBC Select service and In 1990 I left International TeleSystems to follow my dream of building a Mag-Lev Toy Train in partnership with AuraSystems, Inc.
Written by Larry Shultz