What's wrong with color TV? General Electric's President Ralph J. Cordiner last week gave the answer: "If you have a color set, you've almost got to have an engineer living in the house."
As Cordiner and virtually every other U.S. electronics manufacturer are well aware, color TV has turned out to be the most resounding industrial flop of 1956. The year started with the rusty prediction of RCA's Chairman David Sarnoff that up to 1,500,000 color sets would be in operation by mid-1956. As of last week, not more than 75,000 color receivers were in use (there are about 40 million black-and-white sets). Compared to black-and-white sales of 7,200.000 this year, color sales are scarcely a speck on the nation's TV screen. At best, the industry does not expect to sell more than 250,000 color sets by year's end. In fact, one big manufacturer estimates the total at closer to 30,000.
Where the seers went wrong was in reasoning that the customer would clamor for color as soon as prices came down (1955 minimum for color sets: $700) and weekly color programming went up (from less than two hours a week last fall). Now both barriers have fallen. RCA. Admiral, Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward have been advertising color sets for $500 or less since early last summer. G.E. will bring out its first under-$500 color set this month. NBC is scheduling at least one color show a night, plans to telecast 120 hours of color during the last three months of 1956; rival CBS is telecasting another five hours of color weekly. Yet even in Chicago, where 38.3 hours of color a week sparkle out from the first U.S. "all-color" station (WNBQ), not more than 5,000 sets are in operation. The prevailing U.S. apathy to tinted TV was echoed last week by an idle viewer at Rich's department store in Atlanta. "I know the grass is green at Ebbets Field," he said. "It isn't worth $400 more to find out how green."
"Premature Tub Thumping." While the public still has to be sold on color TV, few retailers across the country are yet in a selling mood. As a San Francisco dealer said last week: "The less I sell, the better. There's a shortage of proper technicians to repair them, and I don't think the buyer is always happy with what he gets." Dealers complain that prices, including the standard $100 one-year service policy (v. $40 for black-and-white), are still too high, and retail markups are too low to justify aggressive advertising.
Some dealers, on the other hand, have made hard promotion pay off. By renting color sets at a loss ($1 a day including service) and buying multihued local TV commercials to hymn the "adventure into a rainbow," Chicago's huge Polk Bros, center has sold 1,600 color sets this year more than any other one-city U.S. retailer. By contrast, another chain has been quietly showing color TV for six months in six Chicago stores, by last week had sold only two sets.