Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Impact, History, and Importance of Television

Television is a major form of mass communication. Millions of people tune in every day to watch the news, reality shows, or their favorite scripted drama. Television helps provide people with a larger understanding of the outside world. It can provide educational material and news about world events for those who want it, and for those that do not, it provides hours of mind numbing escapism. Watching TV can be a social or solitary event. It can help promote great causes like Hope for Haiti and it can be used to further a political career. As a form of mass communication, television has a great impact (both positive and negative) on many people's lives.

History of Television:

Ever since the introduction of radio, TV had been the stuff of science fiction novels. Many dreamed of idea of being able to transmit moving images via radio waves. "The first application of this concept was wirephotos (using telephone lines to send still photos to newspapers)" (source). Many early attempts to create the television used mechanical devices to transmit the images. They usually involved spinning disks that focused light reflected from a scene on a photocell. In addition to producing low quality picture, these devices were quite large and made a great deal of noise.

Philo T. Farnsworth, an American engineer, is most associated with the invention of TV. "He rejected the mechanical approach and decided that the only thing fast enough to scan a moving image was a stream of electrons. Farnsworth developed the basic element of a TV camera: a dissector tube that used a moving stream of electrons to "read out" brightness information on a line-by-line basis from the backside of an image focused on a light-sensitive area of a tube." (source). Similar processes to Farnsworth's scanning is still used today except with today's color systems the scanning process results in a massive number of illuminated colored dots. In the United States, three other people are given credit for major inventions leading to TV: Allen B. DuMont, Charles Jenkins, and Vladimir K. Zworykin. Thanks to these men and many others, the problem of how to dissect images and sequentially transmit them through the air by means of radio waves was solved. For more information on the engineering behind the invention of television, click here.

"The first all-electronic TV programming was launched by the BBC from Alexandra Palace in London in 1936... The RCA corporation "officially" debuted the thing called television in the United States by telecasting parts of 1939 New York World’s Fair. This included a speech by President Franklin Roosevelt... The first TV receivers had 13 cm (5 inch) screens and black and white pictures. They cost about half the price of an automobile." (same source as above). Soon, six TV stations were on the air in the U.S., and many more were in development. As TV became more popular new TV sets were made that were less expensive and with larger screens. "July 1st, 1942, CBS launched 15 hours of weekly programming, including two 15-minute, Monday through Friday newscasts... Also on July 1st, an NBC station broadcast the Dodger-Phillie baseball game -- complete with a Bulova watch commercial (TV's first commercial)." (source).

When World War II ended, TV boomed with many stations immediately going on the air. Television began its rapid expansion that would bring its golden age (50s and 60s). The expansion was so great that the FCC saw that the number of available TV channels wasn't going to meet the demand for new stations. "In 1952, they launched UHF television (ultra high frequency, channels 14–83)... Their plan provided for 2,053 stations in 1,291 communities in the U.S. and its territories. Channel assignments in 242 communities were set aside for noncommercial and educational purposes." (source). This is when TV truly became a form of mass communication. Unfortunately UHF channels had a lot of trouble because people had difficulty tuning into them. Today, many of the UHF problems have been solved with new types of TV sets and the wide use of cable. (Cable television makes all TV stations equal, regardless of frequency or power.)

As the percentage of people around the globe that owned a television increased, TV went into its golden age and firmly replaced the radio as America's most beloved form of entertainment. During the golden age, Westerns, situational comedies, and variety shows were quite popular. Variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show, created many celebrities that were beloved by the American public. Films also began to be shown on TV as well as "made for TV" movies. Eventually many networks found it necessary to begin censorship of material that they felt might offend some of their conservative viewers.

"Before 1956, all TV programming had to be done "live."... Consequently, the period from about 1948 to 1955 is referred to as the "live" decade of television... In the late 50s videotaping productions meant that mistakes could be corrected by either stopping the tape and redoing segments or fixing problems in editing." (source). This meant the quality of shows went up but so did production costs because production took longer.

Color TV:

In the 40s, CBS created a mechanical device to display color TV. Unfortunately there were many problems with this device and the Korean War delayed its widespread use. During the war engineers at RCA came up with an all electronic approach. Rather than require new TV receivers and transmitters, the all-electronic process interleaved all the color information into the existing black and white TV signal. "The fact that this system incorporated a compatible color approach was critical to its success. Compatible color means that one basic signal can be transmitted and the black and white sets can ignore the color information. FCC approved the RCA system in 1953." (source)

Types of Television:

There are many different genres of TV. Recently reality shows, such as the powerhouse American Idol, and procedurals (shows that follow the same basic plotline or formula each episode), such as Law and Order, have dominating ratings. Serialized shows (shows with long ongoing stories) have therefore been cut back on in recent years. Only in rare cases such as ABC's LOST does a serialized drama become a mainstream hit as opposed to a cult classic (like FOX's Firefly). Other forms of television include educational TV (from sources like PBS and the History Channel), game shows, news shows, situational comedies, cartoons, and public broadcasting. Many new channels now exclusively show films or radio.

Modern Forms of Television:

Since the 90s, TV has expanded far beyond what it once was. There are now many new ways to watch television. Whether it be through DirectTV, on an HD Plasma screen, or not even on a television set at all, TV is now more accessible than ever. "When digital/high-definition (HDTV) television was in the planning stage in the 1990s, the FCC decided to take over a large (and mostly unused) chunk of the UHF spectrum for this new technology. Today, there are more than 1,000 digital/high-definition stations on the air in the United States." (source)

Today, TV can be viewed using a projector or computer screen. We can watch shows whenever we feel like through the use of the internet and DVR. We can stream episodes of our favorite show through sites like (hulu)and (netflix), and we can download them either legally through services like iTunes or through an illegal torrent. In addition, many television programs have been put on DVD which means that if we want to catch up on a serialized show we have heard about, we can just buy the old seasons. The rise of these new forms of television distribution has created almost as many problems for the industry as it has made life easier for the viewer. Due to people not watching shows when they actually air, it is very difficult for networks to get accurate ratings for their shows. These new forms of distribution were also the cause of the 2007 Writers Guild Strike which halted TV production for several months. The writers of television felt that they weren't being paid enough for things like iTunes downloads and DVD sales (all this info is my own knowledge so there is no source).

Impact and Importance of TV as a Form of Mass Communication:

Many have debated about the negative effects of television. One major problem is that many people take what they see on TV and think that what they are seeing is what real life is like. One major example of this is the "CSI Syndrome". Investigators and prosecutors have coined the term “the CSI Syndrome” while complaining that, "because of the popularity and considerable viewership of CSI and its spin-offs, juries today expect to be “dazzled,” and will acquit criminals of charges unless presented with impressive physical evidence, even when motive, testimony, and lack of alibi are presented by the prosecution." (wikipedia).

Other people see TV as a waste of time that could be used doing something more productive. Television can have an addictive nature to it especially with children and many parents worry that their child is not physically active enough due to the TV. In general, TV has a huge impact on children today. They grow up being highly stimulated by TV and learn many things from it about social interaction. Some see this as a bad thing because it can give children an unhealthy tolerance for things like violence.

TV does have it's positive side too though. It communicates information to many people and can actually stimulate the brain if one watches educational programming or even serialized shows with complex plotlines. Television has brought news, sports, and hours of entertainment to people. It can bring a family together and it can provide an escape from reality that is a lot more healthy than most other ways. Television is a true form of mass communication.


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