Vintage Advertising: They Launched and Lost the TV Industry

201603-pg90-dumont-adAllen B. Du Mont made television broadcasting possible when he developed a revolutionary picture tube that wouldn’t burn out in 25 hours — the tube’s previous lifespan. In 1939, he made the first consumer sale of a television set. But he realized that he’d never sell many TVs until there was regular, scheduled programming. So Du Mont launched its own television network, broadcasting live television shows and transmitting them across telephone lines to stations in 32 cities. By 1948, the Du Mont network was airing some of the country’s top shows, including The Original Amateur Hour — the American Idol of its day.

But Du Mont faced growing competition from NBC and CBS. Unlike his competitors, he didn’t have the income from a radio station to fund his television broadcasts. Then, the FCC changed the rules for allocating television channels, and Du Mont was blocked from new markets unless it broadcast in the UHF range. Meanwhile, GE and RCA were selling TV sets at a fraction of Du Mont’s price. When Du Mont went out of business in 1956, America was left with just three networks until Fox premiered in 1985.