The Viewtron system was launched commercially back in 1983 by the Viewdata Corporation, a company formed by a joint venture between Knight-Ridder and AT&T. Prior to the launch it had only 200 users. By 1984 it had 2,700 subscribers. The service expanded over the following two and a half years to about 15,000 users and could be found in 15 cities along the east coast.
The Viewtron system allowed people to play games, access news and information and conduct banking online. The system was designed to be viewed on a television, connected through a telephone modem and utilized an infra-red remote-controlled keyboard. The Sceptre system enabled TV access and had the same microprocessor as a personal computer. Software was developed to allow IBM, Commodore and Apple computer users (with modems) to access the system.
Online shopping was the big dream for the Viewtron system. Unfortunately after only one year into the project, the online shopping sites had only received 11 orders. After spending over $50 million on the system, the grand information networking experiment ended. Viewdata’s executives wanted it to be “The McDonald’s of videotex” according to a quote from a Viewdata spokesman. The costs involved in the system made it difficult to price the service for the mass market but some of the ideas ended up being used in other services that became the Internet.