Photo Credits: Television via Unsplash
WEST CHESTER, Pa. (Nov. 21, 2022) — As you head home for Thanksgiving, you need something to cozy up to.
Flipping through channels, you see a long list of television channels you subscribe to. Except, barely any of them have something exciting playing on them.
You now start to question why you are subscribed to so many channels, most of which you do not even watch, how we got here in television history and what is bound to happen in the future.
As the world constantly changes, so does the television industry as well. Whether watching via cable, streaming services like Netflix or even on your laptop or smartphone, television has played a vital role in bringing us entertainment and news.
Entertainment initially did not involve a screen, instead being a radio, thus requiring only your ears to listen to and interpret messages.
The history of television dates to the late 19th century when inventors invented what is known as a “cathode ray tube,” a “glass video display component of an electronic device (usually a television or the computer monitor),” as described by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1884, a German inventor named Paul Nipkow invented the “scanning disk,” also known as the “Nipkow disk,” which helped “dissect and transmit images sequentially” using the holes in the wheel. The public did not receive the scanning disk well because the images were often poor quality and they did not see a future for this invention.
While the invention was not a commercial success, a physicist named Boris Rosing kept the ball rolling when he improved the scanning disk. From there, two inventors, Vladimir Zworykin and Philo Farnsworth, competed to patent the first television set in 1907.
The Radio Corporation of America, which Zworykin worked for, sued Farnsworth to gain patents for the essential parts of television; if they could get those patents, then RCA could own every aspect of the recording industry.
After a legal fight with RCA, Farnsworth ultimately declared victory in 1930 when he won the patent rights for the first-ever television.
Television was less prevalent, though, because only wealthy people had them. Only 1% of all Americans owned a television set in 1948, but by the television boom of the 1950s, sales for them skyrocketed to two-thirds of the U.S. population.
In 1952, the executives at CBS wanted to test out color television. However, this was a problem as every television set across the country could only play in black and white.
RCA eventually crafted the first successful set that “sent TV images in color but allowed older sets to receive the color images as black-and-white,” according to Richard Campbell and two other authors in the textbook “Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age.” It took about a decade, but color television became the new standard for the three major networks.
To help prepare people for the new era of the small screen and help increase sales of color TV, Walt Disney crafted what is known as an “anthology” series, or the collection of pieces of works, called “The Wonderful World of Color.”
Disney had always presented his creations on ABC (which may have been why the Walt Disney Co. bought them in 1996). Still, he instead chose NBC because, as Dave Smith from the Walt Disney Archives explains, “NBC was more proactive in pioneering shows in color, and Walt felt color would really enhance his product,” which also explains why the modern NBC logo is a colorful peacock.
Television stations across the country always signed on and off their signals every morning and evening, respectively. But, on June 1, 1980, things changed when media mogul Ted Turner introduced the Cable News Network, commonly known as CNN.
CNN became the first cable network to broadcast around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many local stations followed suit within the next decade due to CNN’s creation and inspired copycat cable news channels, including MSNBC and Fox News.
Seventeen years later, a new competitor entered the scene: high-definition television. The federal government introduced it to the airwaves by allowing local television stations to have an additional channel dedicated exclusively to HDTV.
However, that foreshadowed the upcoming events about to impact millions of Americans: the digital television transition.
The FCC mandated that by Feb. 17, 2009, every high-powered local station would switch off all analog signals, which was later pushed back to June 12 that same year. Low-powered stations were initially supposed to shut off their signals by Sep. 1, 2015, but complications from the FCC pushed it back to July 13, 2021.
The last analog signal had just shut down in Alaska this past January 10 due to complications making it difficult to do so, having the longest gap in American digital television transition history.
As streaming services became popular, Netflix introduced the first original TV show exclusively for the service, “Lilyhammer.” From there, Netflix created thousands of popular original TV shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.”
That was when streaming services hit all-time highs, and new ones like Amazon Prime and HBO Max started cashing in on it, such as “The Rings of Power” and “House of the Dragon.”
In April 2021, I wrote an article for Delaware County Community College’s newspaper, The Communitarian, about how streaming services have dominated traditional television. The Pew Research Center revealed that year “that 76 percent of U.S. adults to only 56 percent in 2021 with cable TV.”
This August, new data revealed that streaming had overtaken traditional and cable television. According to National Public Radio, “audiences spent an average of 190.9 billion minutes streaming content per week in July” that year in comparison to “169.9 billion minutes in April 2020.”
It will certainly stay for now, but their future could be jeopardized. Local stations across the country may have to shut down their signals for good once this century ends, so it all depends on us for the future of television.
Benjamin Slomowitz is a fourth-year media and culture major. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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