In the past couple days AT&T pulled a couple videos from their archives and posted the to Youtube. Here are a couple promo videos for a new service that Knight-Ridder and AT&T launched in the early 1980s.
Viewtron was a computer like gadget that you could plug into your TV and then, via a dial-up modem, go online and shop, check your email, or do other things we now take for granted. Some are calling this an early form of the internet, but I think it more closely resembles the early and middle years of AOL.
The device itself more closely resembled a dumb terminal than it did a computer. It seems to have been pitched only as a way to get online, so it's not clear if it could do anything else.
This looked to be an awfully closed platform from the users' viewpoint. You could go to one of the numerous media, retail, or business pages, but there didn't seem to be any way for the end users to get online themselves.
Viewtron launched in 1983. At its peak it had around 15 thousand users. Knight-Ridder and AT&T reportedly sank over $50 million into ViewData, the tech startup that developed the platform, before pulling the plug in 1986.
But they did have ambitious plans. ViewData had also developed apps so owners of other computer systems could access the online platform. At its peak it had 15 thousand pages you could visit, and they had plans to expand to as many 100,000 pages.
Depending on how you measure it, they planned to have enough content online that you would now be able to fit on to a DVD.