Television replaced radio as the number one mass medium in the 1950s. Since then, it has played an integral role in the world. It has become so significant that it is hard for some to think of a life without it. Television does not only reflect the existing cultural values but also shape them. It has had its fair share of criticism for its negative influence, especially on the young people. Many also appreciate the ability of television to bring all its viewers together with a common experience. Events such as the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam war, the explosion of the Challenger Shuttle, the 9/11 attacks, and Hurricane Katrina, are just a few of the tragic events that were broadcast through television. It united millions who shared the same feeling of tragedy and hope. The growth of satellite broadcasting and the internet has changed how people watch television today. But it has not eliminated the need for this medium. Instead, it has forced it to evolve while also solidifying its position as one of the 20th century's most significant inventions.
The idea of television has been in existence long before the device appeared. Early inventors proposed that if the creation of the radio is possible through the separation of audio waves from the electromagnetic spectrum, it is possible that TV waves could be separated to transmit images as well. As early as 1876, George Carey, a Boston civil servant, has imagined the complete television system. He even had drawings of a selenium camera through which people can see by electricity.
It was in the late 1800s that many technologies that would later be used in television were developed. The cathode ray tube was one of such significant technologies. It worked effectively as a combination of the principles of electricity and camera. Other technologies included the mechanical scanner system. This scanning disk played a foundational role in the experiments to transmit visual images. It was a combination of the CRT and the scanning disk that was used in 1907 for the first experimental television. The multiple experiments on television led to the existence of two types of television – electronic television and mechanical television. It was the mechanical television that first had commercial success, but it had so many limitations too. The electronic television was developed around a similar time on the other side of the Atlantic in America. It soon emerged that it as a far better alternative and replaced the mechanical television.
Television broadcasting started with experimental stations as early as 1928. It was, however, in 1939 that National Broadcasting Company emerged as the first network with regular TV broadcasts. Its inaugural telecast was the opening ceremonies of the New York World Fair. Its initial reach was limited to 400 television sets and audience between 5000 and 8000 within New York alone. The price of television was exorbitant with the receivers costing an equally high price; it was, therefore, not surprising that television sales were low during this period. Columbia Broadcasting System also started broadcasting programs and a single technical standard as outlined by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that one television set can receive signals across all networks.
Color Technology is another significant development in television broadcasting. The first national broadcast in color was the telecast of Tournament of Roses Parade in 1954. It took a decade for color TV to gain popularity in America. During the 1950s, this transmission medium gained widespread popularity. At first, television programs adopted the formats of radio and failed to take advantage of the possibilities of this new medium. However, this changed in the 1950s as television programs shifted away from radio and started borrowing from the theatre.
Two types of programs played significant roles in helping broadcasting networks achieve mainstream popularity and establish content. These were the TV spectacular and the magazine format. Magazine programs included the Tonight Show and the Today show which usually lasted for multiple hours and had several segments. The TV spectacular ran for hours as well and featured music variety shows. These two programs required multiple advertisers as no one could sponsor such a lengthy program alone.
Cable TV started as a means of getting television signals to mountainous regions where the reception was bad. However, it soon became a way of expanding the programming choices of consumers and better image quality. Many TV stations saw the rise of cable as a challenge leading to restrictions being placed on the cable. By the time the restrictions were loosened, pay-tv was one of the first things that cable TV introduced. In 1970s, HBO switched to the use of satellite to distribute its program. This opened it up to a much wider audience as it was more efficient than the microwave distributed services. Other cable providers soon adopted satellites too.
Analog signals were the standard in for transmission as set by the FCC in the 1940s. However, this had its problems which included distortion and static, leading to poor picture quality. After much deliberations, research, and testing, digital signals became the acceptable standards in 2009. Coupled with the switch to digital television was the development of high definition television. Commonly referred to as HDTV, this created crystal clear pictures in a much higher resolution than what standard television systems offered. Although it was extremely expensive at first, the price soon dropped, and it became available to mainstream viewers. Today, most viewers use HDTV.
Like all new technologies, the internet is also changing how we watch television. Many are now moving away from large screens to small portable ones who offer them the flexibility that mainstream television doesn't.
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