July 31, 1978 12:00 PM

This cable TV service in Columbus, Ohio provides the usual gamut of channels: regular broadcast programs, news, shopping information and citizens’ access. But since last December the system has been running the nation’s first large-scale experiment in two-way TV communication. That means QUBE can bill customers per program for commercial-free movies, concerts and instructions—for example, $3.50 for the X-rated Emannuelle in Bangkok, $3 for a Bette Midler show, 75 cents for a shorthand lesson. Subscribers also get five “response buttons” turning TV watching into a continuous referendum. Viewers have voted a Howard Cosell imitator off a local version of the Gong Show, expressed opinions during a planning commission meeting (on street widening in the suburb of Upper Arlington); helped a couple name their newborn daughter (the winner, with 43 percent of the vote, was Elizabeth); and told John Dean, appearing on an interview show, that 53 percent of his audience would still like to have dinner with Richard Nixon. A fire and burglar alarm and medical-alert service is due to be added this fall. QUBE’s conglomerate parent, Warner Communications, has already sunk more than $12 million into the project. So with only about 20,000 subscribers (once installed, the two-way hookup comes free with the basic $ 10.95 monthly fee), it’s still a money-losing proposition. But the interest it has stirred in the Columbus test market seems to vindicate Marshall McLuhan and, maybe, the late George Orwell.

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