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QUBE was a cable television system that played a pivotal role in the history of American cable television. Launched in Columbus, Ohio in December 1977, QUBE introduced viewers, and the international press, to several concepts that became central to the future development of cable television: pay-per-view programs, special-interest cable television networks, and interactive services.
A closed-circuit television system at the Otani Hotel in Japan inspired Steve Ross, Chairman of Warner Communications, to wonder what could be done to improve the performance of Warner’s tiny cable television division. Ross was intrigued by the potential of delivering Warner Bros. movies directly to home subscribers.
At the time, Warner Cable was a tiny division of Warner Communications, run by a former Western Union telecommunications executive and attorney, Gus Hauser. Ross surrounded Hauser with entertainment industry executives—Jac Holzman, who had sold his Elektra Records to Ross in 1967; Mike Dann, the CBS programming wizard responsible for The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres; former CBS general counsel Spencer Harrison, who was the primary reason why My Fair Lady was produced on Broadway; and super-agent Ted Ashley, whose talent agency was Ross’s first show-biz acquisition.
Pioneer Electronics was hired to "build the box" that would transform the cable TV service in a few hundred thousand households into a device that was intended to change the entire entertainment landscape.
The service was first launched in Columbus, Ohio amidst considerable national and international press coverage. Debuting with a total of 30 channels (a comparatively large number of cable channels at the time), this initial QUBE service consisted of 10 pay-per-view movie channels (a new feature for cable TV); 10 broadcast channels (from Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Cleveland); and 10 community channels. These community channels included Pinwheel, later reworked to become Nickelodeon, a weather channel, a learning channel, and a channel filled with locally produced programs that showed off QUBE's interactivity. The first Qube box was issued as a test for 4 months to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Walter B. Kesler, in Hilliard, Ohio. The Kesler family watched the broadcasts that were intended for a larger audience, and caused the eventual push in programming that would affect how cable formatted shows would be put together based on their viewing habits. The Keslers' children, Lori A. and Kurt W., are regarded to be the first product of the "cable generation."
The success of QUBE 
To 30,000 homes scattered around the city and its suburbs, the goal of the QUBE was rather simple: "To create a faster method for groups to communicate and interact, across distance."
Warner Cable used the new system to acquire valuable cable franchises, with which it would build and create cable monopolies in several large markets throughout the country. Warner QUBE was “awarded” cable franchises in cities such as Houston, Milwaukee, Dallas, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Despite never becoming widespread, many of the fundamental aspects of QUBE became important parts of television: pay-per-view and On Demand, MTV and Nickelodeon. QUBE itself was successfully installed and used in half the homes in Columbus, and the interactive results showed a high volume of participation from viewers who had the QUBE box and remote. The later remotes added five additional buttons for a total of ten options, and became wireless.
After launching a few other systems beyond Columbus, QUBE created an interactive network in Columbus. This network sent live, interactive programming to each of the QUBE systems for two hours per night, five nights a week. One of the most popular programs was called "Soap Scoop", which wrapped up the daily events on each of the national soap operas. Guests on the show included producers and actors from the various programs, and viewers were frequently polled on their opinions regarding characters and plots.
The failures of QUBE 
However, endeavors to build new QUBE systems across the country resulted in a significant increase in debt for Warner Cable (citation needed - not sure that QUBE systems were causal for TW's financial issues). By 1982, the company was running at a $99 million loss, and by 1983, their total debt was $875 million. Warner Cable called upon cash-rich American Express to serve as an investor, and the two companies formed Warner-Amex Cable Communications with a stellar board of directors, including American Express chairman Jim Robinson and President Lou Gerstner, and the former head of Shearson/American Express, Sanford Weill. However, Warner bought out American Express after the latter made an offer to buy Warner’s position, leading to conflicts between the two companies.
By this time, MTV and Nickelodeon were becoming meaningful endeavors in their own right; its powerful leaders were Bob Pittman and Geraldine Layborne. In the meantime, QUBE was either up and running or already built in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, and St. Louis. Warner Cable, which previously had only 200,000 subscribers, now had 2 million subscribers, roughly 1/10 of the whole cable subscriber universe. Pittman led a highly unsuccessful effort to buy MTV; there was also an unsuccessful attempt at a public offering. Gus Hauser was gone, replaced by President Reagan’s Transportation Secretary, Drew Lewis.
Lewis renegotiated with municipalities to ease the burden to Warner of some of the cable franchise deals. However, in order to keep the cable operation going, Warner Cable had to sell MTV and Nickelodeon to Viacom, and the QUBE systems were gradually phased out. The last QUBE boxes were phased out in 1984.
In addition to financial issues, privacy concerns increased among subscribers to QUBE. Personal information about a family’s specific interests, political views and other personal information could be stored in a database after it was processed during an interactive QUBE session. For example, a program could ask viewers to identify their favorite political candidates as part of a national survey, but this information could potentially be traced directly back to the respondents. Although Warner-Amex assured subscribers that their personal information would be kept private, such data was valuable to merchandisers, political groups and other organizations. Even if subscribers trusted Warner-Amex’s commitment to privacy, there were still concerns regarding the ability for computer hackers to potentially steal information collected via QUBE. Consequently, nonrenewals became more numerous, ultimately contributing to the end of the broadcasting system.
Despite having a short lifespan and multiple shortcomings, QUBE occupied a unique place in media history. It was a venture that encouraged entrepreneurial media activities, and provided a unique foundation for a disproportionately large number of media innovators.
Some examples of people who worked on QUBE moving on to other television innovations are:
- Howard Blumenthal, creator-producer of How Do You Like Your Eggs?, later developed MTV's Remote Control and PBS' Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, then shifted to executive roles with CDNow, Bertelsmann, and a division of Hearst.
- Scott Kurnit founded About.com, after a senior role at the pioneering online service, Prodigy.
- Ron Castell became a senior executive at Blockbuster.
- Nancy Gould Chuda became producer of ABC's annual An Evening With Friends for the Environment celebrity special.
- Steve Bornstein, producer for Ohio State Buckeyes football programming on QUBE, became an executive with ESPN and currently the president of NFL Network.
- Burt Dubrow, whose career in talk shows brought about the success of Jerry Springer and Sally Jesse Raphael
- Ken Papagan, who continued his innovative work in interactive media as an executive with design and consulting firm iXL and as President of Rentrak.
- Robert Morton, whose executive producer credits include Late Night with David Letterman, Mind of Mencia, and Lopez Tonight.
- Jim Jinkins, who created and produced the Nickelodeon series, Doug, and other animated series
- Ron Giles, who developed the QVC television operation, first in the U.S., then internationally
QUBE programming 
- Talent Search (produced by Emmy-award winning producer Robert Morton, who subsequently produced Late Night with David Letterman), a variety show featuring local talent, involved audiences rating each performer. And when the score dropped below an acceptable level, the performance was stopped.
- Columbus Alive, a homey talk show, featured national and local celebrities, public opinion polls, and local chat.
- Screen Test was an interactive game show about the movies.
- Flippo's Magic Circus was a children's series that featured in-studio and play-at-home interactive games.
- How Do You Like Your Eggs?, a four-episode game show hosted by Bill Cullen, involved two couples predicting how the home audience responded to questions.
- QUBE promised an interactive gaming channel, a forefront to video games, that was supposed to award prizes, such as free service credits. This never materialized
QUBE remote 
The QUBE remote was a book-size box with 18 buttons on it that sent signals across a long tether cable to a box with no display, but otherwise similar in size and function to modern cable set-top boxes. The remote had feet for tabletop use, but could be hand-held (probably two hands) and passed around the room, which was significant since many TV's at the time had no remotes for changing channels. The buttons were split up on the remote, with ten buttons numbered 1 - 10 down the left-hand side, five larger buttons down the right hand side, each with a corresponding red LED indicator, and three buttons across the bottom of the remote. The three big buttons across the bottom chose which category of channel the viewer would watch: pay-per-view, broadcast, or community broadcasting. The ten buttons down the left accessed each of the ten channels in that category. The 5 buttons down the right-hand side corresponded with the interactive aspect of the QUBE. They allowed a television program to ask viewers a question with five possible answers. Answers to polls taken via the QUBE box could be collected from the set-top boxes in six seconds. A computer would record the information and then display the results on the television screen for everyone to see. In the middle of these three rows of buttons was a clear plastic window that held a channel card with station names and logos arranged in a grid corresponding to the ten "row" buttons on the left and the three "column" buttons along the bottom. Channel cards were mailed to customers with each change in the channel line-up. Customers would remove the old guides and slide in the new ones. On the top of the remote was a hole in which a "key" (really just a magnet in a proprietary plastic holder) was inserted to unlock viewing of pay-per-view programming, which could be billed in much the same way as modern cable pay-per-view programs are. Without the key inserted, restricted channels displayed a default access denial screen.
See also 
- Barnouw, E. (1990). Tube of plenty : the evolution of American television / Erik Barnouw. New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.
- Freed, Ken (2000), When Cable Went Qubist, Media Visions Journal, retrieved Aug 15, 2009
- Constantakis-Valdez, Patti, Interactive television, The Museum of broadcast Communications, retrieved Aug 15, 2009
- Rupp, Katherine (1999), Warner Amex QUBE Cable-Communications, BlueSky, retrieved Aug 15, 2009
- QUBE interactive TV retrospective Page
- “When Cable Went Qubist.” By Ken Freed
- Rupp, Katherine (1999), Warner Amex QUBE Cable-Communications, BlueSky, retrieved Aug 15, 2009
- Interactive Television, Museum of Broadcast Communications