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14 January 1973: Elvis Presley revolutionizes… the telecom industry

This week, let’s look back on a legendary event – literally and figuratively - both for the music world and for the world of industry: the first satellite broadcast of a concert, given by the King himself!



The official birth of satellite television took place just over ten years before our story. On the 10th of July 1962, a satellite called Telstar was launched from the Cape Canaveral base. It had barely had time to be placed in orbit when the following day, on the 11th of July, it enabled the first live television link to be established between the United States and Europe.

While this date reigned supreme as a milestone in the history of telecommunications, the event that was to take place on the 14th of January 1973 unquestionably disputed its crown. What could be more fitting when it involved the King?



Weighed down by several years of failure in the world of cinema and music, Elvis Presley had long been blown off his throne by the winds of history, and particularly by the Fab Four from across the Atlantic, but his career had undergone a mini-revival following the success of a special Christmas show broadcast on NBC in 1968. When his tempestuous manager, Colonel Parker, saw the live broadcast of President Nixon’s visit to China, an idea for another media coup thus took seed in his mind: organizing the first ever concert televised live by satellite all over the world.

The chosen location was the Honolulu International Center in Hawaii. The concert was meticulously prepared and advertised for nearly a year. More than two and a half million dollars were invested to guarantee its technical as well as artistic success. Thus, on the big day, at precisely half past noon, the singer appeared in one of the legendary white costumes he wore in that the period, complete with a cape emblazoned with the American eagle, for a show which went off without a hitch.

Everyone seemed happy, none more so than the investors when the then mind-boggling figure of more than a billion viewers across the globe was quickly announced. The double album brought out the following month, subtly titled "Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite" and featuring the soundtrack of the live performance, sold more than five million copies in the United States. A documentary and a host of spin-off products were also based on the show. This event lasting 85 minutes seemed to seal the King’s return to the top of the charts.



However, although this event was indeed a resounding success and was etched in people’s collective memory as a tremendous technical feat, its fame is based on the fact that it is presented as a show broadcast live by satellite all over the world. And yet all of this is false…

In actual fact a great many parts of the world, particularly Africa, Latin America and the Soviet Union, were unable to watch the concert. On top of this, the majority of the countries which were able to watch it did not see it until days, weeks or even months later, via videotape recordings. Thus, in the United States itself, even though this was the country most immediately concerned, it was not broadcast on television on NBC until the 4th April to avoid clashing with the final of the Super Bowl which took place at the same time as the concert on the 14th of January! In the end, only Australia, the Pacific islands and certain regions of Asia saw the broadcast live via satellite. 

The magic of marketing and the aura enjoyed at that time by space technology, the potential of which seemed infinite, had in fact created a legend which was to outlive the myth on which it was based. Overweight and prematurely worn out by excessive consumption of medication and ever more grueling tours, Elvis Presley was to die four years later of a heart attack on the 16th of August 1977. He was only 42.