In an attempt to broadcast a business viewpoint directly to television viewers, American Express Co. tonight launched the pilot for a business news program, apparently the first time a corporation has written, directed and produced television features on major public issues.
Called "How's Business?," the broadcasts will be prepared by the in-house television staff of the financial services firm and distributed to 536 cable systems serving at least five million households over Satellite Programming Network, a cable service. American Express plans to produce three of these shows this year as part of the test.
"We want to deal with a wide variety of business subjects," said Michael Monroe, vice president for corporate communications. Monroe said the series "will not be commercial in any sense" and cannot be considered "advocacy journalism."
The subject of the pilot program, for example, is business' response to the problems of the handicapped. According to American Express, the 30 minute show, entitled "The Quiet Revolution," gives disabled workers a chance to discuss their employment situations, while educators, business representatives and others assess the issues before the handicapped.
The program is not going to be distributed on cable systems owned by Warner Amex Cable Communications, the nation's sixth largest operator with about 950,000 subscribers, and a partnership of American Express and Warner Communications Inc.
However, Monroe said he is talking to Warner Amex about the possibility of distributing the shows. "If they say it's not good enough we won't approach them again," he said. "We think it is good enough."
The business community has become increasingly interested in using over-the-air and cable television to tell its story. Several companies have produced video annual reports for mass television distribution and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also been feeding television programming about business and political issues to television outlets.
A new Washington company, Public Affairs Satellite System, recently began distributing short news and feature programs produced by businesses to radio and television stations via satellite.
Monroe said American Express plans to "narrowcast" its show, promoting it to specific audiences through the direct mail marketing system the credit card firm is considered to have mastered.
"If we have a show on some segment of the economy, we can promote by direct mail directly to people who have an interest in the subject," he said.
The company decided to produce these programs internally, as opposed to sponsoring the effort by another programmer, because of the low overhead involved in utilizing existing American Express equipment and personnel. "My only real cost is getting up and down off the satellite," Monroe said.