Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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The Independent Producers and the Early Days of Television

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen

For years the independent producers forecasted the oncoming of television. Mary Pickford and Sam Goldwyn's public predictions began no later than 1934. Their views spread amongst the independent population, and in a short time, figured into the United Artists studios policy, serving as the infamous deal-breaker that provoked Disney's exit from United Artists in 1937. "Remember that term," Gunther Lessing confided with Disney employees in the 1930s regarding television. "It's going to play a big part in this studio someday."

Moreover in the early days as the television medium was being defined, SIMPP considered it an important task of their members to be involved in the process that would ultimately determine whether the future of TV was seen as an appendage of broadcasting (radio-with-pictures) or as an extension of motion pictures (movies-in-the-home). Obviously the producers had their own set of aesthetic and economic opinions with a particular abhorrence of the reediting mutilation common in commercial television programming, not to mention their vehemence toward sponsor interruption that lowered their films' entertainment value.

Pay TV - Years Before Its Time

To overcome this, SIMPP favored subscription telecasting—fundamentally similar to the modern pay television service—which the independent producers referred to as "Pay-As-You-See" TV. Several subscription services seemed practical, though primitive, including Phonevision, Telemeter (coincidentally 50 percent owned by Paramount Pictures), and Skiatron's Subscriber-Vision. SIMPP was pleased with the commercial possibilities of some of these systems, especially the ones that transmitted a scrambled signal to a decoder attached to a home television set. When the decoder was not in use, the channel would show trailers for the movies to be purchased. SIMPP believed that each territory should have at least one station devoted to Pay-As-You-See TV, opening up a market for quality, uninterrupted film viewing in the living room.

In June 1951, the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers petitioned the FCC to immediately "license worthy systems of subscription television so as to afford the public a more abundant opportunity to enjoy quality feature length motion picture, educational and cultural programs." Ellis Arnall delivered the petition in person, hoping to revolutionize the limitations of the television medium and provide a way for producers to receive a percentage of in-home movie-watching revenue.

Unfortunately the FCC was not willing to provide the go-ahead. The FCC and Congress backed off of subscription television, afraid of inciting public indignation that television sets were purchased with the understanding that TV was free. Though SIMPP's efforts were unsuccessful at the time, as the television market matured over the years, subscription television eventually became a reality as envisioned by the independent organization.


For more of the Independent Producers' views on television see the following:


Pickford on television: Mary Pickford, "The Big Bad Wolf Has Been Muzzled," from HR, circa 1934, reprinted in Wilkerson and Borie, The Hollywood Reporter, the Golden Years, pp. 234-236.
"Remember that term": Tytle, One of "Walt's Boys," p. 113.
SIMPP subscriber television: "SIMPP Okays Pay-at-Home TB: Asks FCC To License System," HR, June 28, 1951, pp. 1, 10; "Indies Yen TV's Potential B. O.," DV, June 28, 1951, pp. 1, 10; "SIMPP and Television," MPH, July 7, 1951, p. 1; "Pay Vision Gets Spur From SIMPP Stand," MPH, July 7, 1951, p. 17. Also, in the mid-1950s, Walter Wanger was among the filmmakers who sat on the board of directors for a closed-circuit, large-screen operation called Box Office Television: see Bernstein, Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, p. 315.

See Bibliography.


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