Introduction to Mass Media/Television

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The History of Television
  3. Color Television
  4. Broadcasting
  5. Cable Television
  6. Online Television
  7. Television in other Countries
  8. Television and Radio
  9. Television and Social Media
  10. The Economic Impact of Television
  11. The Future of Television
  12. Chapter Review


Television is a system for transmitting visual images and sound that are reproduced on screens, chiefly used to broadcast programs for entertainment, information, and education. The television set has become a commonplace in many households, businesses, and institutions. It is a major vehicle for advertising. Few inventions have had as much effect on contemporary American society as television. Jeff Greenfield, a media observer, stated “Television is the pervasive American pass time cutting through geographic, ethnic class and cultural diversity, it is the single binding thread of this country, the one experience that touches young and old, rich and poor, learned and illiterate (Biagi, 2005). In 1948, only 1 percent of America’s households had a TV set; by 1953 more than 50 percent had one; and since the early 1960’s, more than 90 percent of all homes have a television set (Campbell, Martin & Fabos, 2012). From mechanical television to electronic television, there continues to be a shift in how televisions are viewed today.

History of Television

As early as 1880, the production of the television was set forth. The cathode ray tube, the forerunner of the TV picture tube, combined principles of camera and electricity. Television images could not float through the air, therefore technicians developed a method of encoding images at a TV station and decoding them at the TV set (Campbell, 2012). Paul Nipkow, who was considered a father of television, was said to have invented the first rotating disk. This device would enable the images to be transmitted over conductors in the 1830’s. John Baird, from Europe, was famous for inventing the first picture in motion. Later he was able to engineer the first color tube. Vladimir Zworykin, an inventor from Russia, who came to America in 1919, introduced the iconoscope which was an electronic camera tube used in television. He got a job at Westinghouse and later began to work at RCA. Philo Farnsworth, an American inventor, grew up as a teenage farmer. Farnsworth invention allowed a way to transmit pictures over sixty horizontal lines, which were called lines of resolution. Lines of resolution are lines of lighted dots that make up a television picture image. These dots are called pixels. They are the smallest dot on a display device that creates a television picture image (History of Television, 2013). Zworykin and Farnsworth inventions developed what we call television.

Zworykin was still working at the broadcasting technology leader RCA. Farnsworth was challenged in his patents by RCA. The company felt that the technology that Zworykin used was from RCA and Westinghouse. Farnsworth went back to his high school teacher and they were able to find his original drawings from the year 1922. So in 1930, he was able to finally have the patent for the first television. After Farnsworth and RCA’s court settlement, the president of RCA, David Sarnoff, ultimately was able to work out an agreement with Farnsworth to license his patents to RCA and AT&T to use in the development of television on a commercial level (Campbell, Martin, & Fabos, 2012).

At the end of the developmental process of television, Farnsworth was able to demonstrate for the first time the public use of television. This took place at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in 1934, five years before RCA’s demonstration in 1939 at the World Fair. After these demonstrations, wealthy people could afford to purchase these television sets. The first sets sold between $55- $125(History of Television, 2013).

Color Television

In 1953, the federal communication commissions (FCC), the government agency that regulates satellite, cable, wire, and television, allowed CBS to do scientific experiments on the color TV systems. The current black and white TV consoles could not handle its transmission, because it was incompatible (Campbell et al, 2012). During that time most of the Americans had just recently got use to the black and white sets. Not discouraged by the incompatibility, RCA continued to press forward and in 1954, the company was able to engineer the color TV standard, which enabled the color signal to work with the black and white model. By 1966, NBC had been broadcasting their television show in the color format. From that time on, the Big Three Networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) broadcast all of their network’s shows in color that were in the evening timeline. This then triggered the increase of color television sets being sold. (Campbell et al, 2012).


With the rise of color broadcasting on prime-time television, the country became increasingly fascinated with television. However, they were limited to what appeared on the three major networks: CBS, NBC, and ABC. These networks purchased time to broadcast their programs from affiliates in each of the major cities in the United States. The programs were designed to reach a mass audience. CBS presented simple comedies such as The Beverly Hillbillies. They also started the movement of situational comedies such as All in the Family in 1971(Stephens). Programs were usually half hour to an hour and dealt with family or a group of co-workers, cowboys, or dramas. Daytime television included soap operas and quiz shows. The three major networks were continuously in a race for ratings and advertising dollars (Stephens).

In 1967, Carnegie Commission report recommended the creation of a fourth, noncommercial, public television network built around the educational nonprofit stations already in operation. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) was created and produced programs that are shown through the network and are spread across the country. The most influential program offered through PBS was for preschoolers called Sesame Street. PBS was funded through government appropriations, viewer donations, and corporate underwriters. Government funds lead to government interference and the need for viewer donations lead to on–air fundraising (Stephens). Broadcasting brought the rise of several new channels, but was soon faced with competition with the rise of cable television networks.

Cable Television

Cable television or Community Antenna TV (CATV), was the first cable system that was engineered. This was originated in states like New York, Pennsylvania, and Oregon because the mountains and skyscrapers stopped the signals from reaching television sets. When cable was first introduced cable companies could send the signal through a coaxial cable, a two conductor cable that is shielded to keep out electronics interference. This created more channels and a clearer picture than that of the over the air system (Campbell et, 2012). Soon the CATV could produce many more channels to the audience than ever before. This was big competition for broadcasting. The only drawback from cable was that the coaxial cable had to be physically connected to the television set to receive the signal. However, broadcasting over antenna only required to connect to a local antenna. Like radio, which required no wires, the cable technology only would work with a connection (Campbell et al, 2012).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s cable only could offer up to five channels. As cable television progressed, in the early 1990’s, cable television had hit over one hundred standard channels. When the technology began to rapidly increase, the cable providers began to offer Pay Per View. This concept allowed the customers to purchase shows and movies that could be seen instantly. The charge was added to their monthly cable bill. At this critical time in the industry, having cable television was very popular, due to the added channels and the added features. Cable providers had to increase protection of the cable system, by scrambling the signal they were able to prevent cable theft. Customers would then need to descramble the signal to view content. As technology advanced, the use of descramblers became obsolete. Hackers began to become aware of the new technology and created their own version of the descramblers. As a result of this setback, cable providers created a more technological digital box that was required for each television set that was to receive cable (CATV History, 2008).

Online Television

Often times, with our busy lives, we don’t have many opportunities to sit in front of the television (Ahmud, 2012). If you do get the opportunity to sit down, you will more than likely be using a mobile device, laptop, or personal computer. New technologies are making viewing television extremely convenient for the audience. Statistics show that traditional television is the environment losing the most fans in favor of the Internet.

According to Ciacu and Tanase (2012), an online television has two important functions: that of content producers and that of content distributor (license from other sources or generated by specialized or not users). The internet has opened up a new way of viewing content and even the way we store media. Some critics are not fans of watching television on a computer monitor, however it has its benefits. Television on the internet broadcast by request and the audience feedback is rapid. There are several alternatives to your regular television channels through options such as Video on Demand, which is a device with the ability to access recent, film and movies anytime. Also, companies like Netflix (a service that allows you to stream a TV shows and movies online through an electronics device), Hulu, and Amazon Video make access to the latest shows and movies easy, with just less than twenty dollars a month you can stream and watch all you favorite movies and television shows. It has become a cheaper alternative than getting cable or satellite TV. In United States, the largest streaming service is Hulu (Ahmud, 2012). These subscriptions often have time shift, where viewers dictate when they choose to watch a certain program. Currently there is a small niche of people that will sit and watch a two hour movie on their computer. Now when viewing media from this internet based sources, you have the ability to connect your laptop or personal computer to your Plasma TV for viewing. In addition to that option, television users can access the internet through their smart television. The newer plasmas have twice the resolution and twice the pixels than standard definition. The pace of the convergence is moving at an all time high with the mobile devices becoming more compact and sophisticated. People are going to continue to use these devices to watch television. With the shift in the way the content is delivered to the audience, this will affect the big networks and cause them to change the way they do programming (Campbell et al, 2012). As television continues to integrate with the internet, a shift in television usage will mostly decline in the coming years (Ahmud, 2012).

Television in other Countries

Television in the United States differs and compares to television in other countries. In Afghanistan a few years back, the Taliban created a law that stated that having a television in your possession was a crime. Women could only watch programming in their home, while men had the option of viewing out in public like in bars or restaurants. With wars taking place, there is only a small percentage of people able to view TV. Most of the programming is imported from other countries. In their country they have a version of the United States’ American Idol called the Afghan Star. They could also vote on their favorite singer using their mobile devices. The talk shows were drawing a huge audience. Like in the United States, Reality TV, Quiz, and various cooking shows are gaining a larger audience creating more ratings. Regardless of the various media competition, people watch more TV now than ever. Americans typically watch TV four and a half hours per day. In Japan, they watch a few more minutes than Americans. (Rodman, 2009)

Television and Radio

In the 1940’s, there were about ten TV stations in America. In 1949, radio typically drew about 81 percent of the broadcast audience. At the end of that year the percent was a straggling 41 percent of the broadcast audience (Biagi, 2005). TV was becoming very popular, and radio became a mere memory. Not only could you hear the information being transmitted over radio waves, you could not connect a visual to what you heard. Although, people were enthused with black and white television sets, the rise of color television sets allowed them to experience the color and sound of your favorite show. Now the old black and white television set were becoming part of history.

Television and the Social Media

Social media is becoming more and more prevalent in our lives in the twenty first century. Not only do social media affect our friends, but it also affects our television experience. Social media is comprised of a variety of websites that allow the user to create an online profile and interact with other people, places, and things. The most common two are Facebook and Twitter. People are able to communicate with friends, get special offers from stores, and interact with television shows through these social media outlets. Twitter is a microblogging site, restricting posts to 140 characters or fewer. The limit allows real-time posts to be made using SMS (short message service) technology, which is the basis for text messaging on the cell phone and other mobile devices. Tweets can also be posted online at In recent years, a lot of attention has been given to Twitter (Ben, 2009). People mainly use Twitter for sharing information and posting what they are doing right then, commenting on some social issue, or telling where they are located at that given time. Using Twitter, television shows allow the viewing audience to comment on the shows they are watching. Often times, the network will replay the show and show all the previous tweets from that show. The other social media “giant” that engages millions of users is Facebook. Facebook was established in 2004 as an internet platform to facilitate interpersonal communications among college students. Facebook has grown into a mediated environment that supports both interpersonal and commercial interaction among individuals that may or may know each other. Facebook has about 500 million active users. According to Facebook statistics, 60% of active users check their Facebook daily (Yadav, 2006). Facebook will allow you to post a comment about a show as well. This is why social media is gaining a lot of attention within the television community. Users of social media often like to multitask. Using social media allows them to view a show, and at the same time, tweet to their friends about what happened on the show.

Television shows are now referencing social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Also, more shows are integrating social media into the series itself with the second screen app, which are on devices with the multiscreen function, live actor Tweet chats, and bonus content on Facebook (Rose, 2013). Shows that are integrating social media are Dancing with the Stars, Syfy’s Face –Off, Style Network: Fashion Week, Person of Interest and Blacklist. Syfy’s Face-Off solicits Twitter Tweets during the first run of their makeup competition. On repeat episodes, they thought it would be interesting to repeat the episode and feature the Tweets and comments from the fans. They call it a Tweet-peat, this was a great way to get the viewers to tune in to a recent rerun of a show. Everyone wants to see their comment come across the screen (Rose). This is similar to how tweets are used during the shows Dancing with the Stars, Person of Interest, and Blacklist as well. Viewers are able to tweet live about what is going on within the show. Comments can also be posted on Facebook about what viewers thought about particular shows that they have watched. Social media is used more today than it was used in the past. It is estimated that between 66%-96% of consumer goods companies have adopted social media, including Facebook, to connect with consumers, and have done so for a variety of reasons, including the capacity to “tell a story” about brand identity or product development, to provide a transparency about business practices, to establish connections with consumers, and to transform loyal customers into passionate advocates for the brand/business (Hyllegard, Ogle, Yan, and Reitz, 2009). Social media also allows for the consumer to offer their opinion during and after the purchase process. In mass communication, social media is sweeping the market, and is also affecting the way we view television.

Economic Impact of Television

Deregulation, the act of removing government regulations, is a big part of the cable industry. This allowed the cable companies to expand the channels received for their customers. However, it also changed how the content was received by the customers. For example, most of the country relied on the local cable company to get programming. The cable customers could still receive programming off the air through their antenna. Typically, this only occurred if the cable network went down. (Wirth, 1990). Local television broadcasters must either be carried by the cable systems in the local market or be faced with surviving economically with a potential audience up to fifty percent less than it would otherwise be (Wirth, 1990). During the 1990’s, cable was becoming extremely powerful in the marketplace. As deregulation continued to set the tone in the marketplace for cable, cable rates increased rapidly (Wirth, 1990).

When cable began to grow, so did the advertising on the channels. Advertising was one of the major results of cable television. A lot of time was devoted to integrating advertisements into television. About one fourth of advertisements were for commercial advertisements (McAllister, 2005). The typical child views about 40,000 commercials per year, which is about 20,000 more than twenty years ago. On the fiscal stand point, advertising reached about $57 million in 2003 in the United States. This makes television a big medium of advertisement in the United States more than in other countries. Within the twenty rated countries, with respect to advertising growth from 2002 to 2003 (a list which includes Russian, China, India and Brazil), television makes up over 50 percent of the advertising capital (McAllister, 2005). Advertisements have a way to link products to our social values with television. Using a 30 second commercial is more effective than the advertisers purchasing a one page ad in the local newspaper. Sound and images help the consumer lock in their idea about the products. This causes them to remember the products and they will more likely go out to purchase the product. Television advertisements have also been successful in making people happy. This also drives the economic force behind advertising on television. Advertisers normally purchase advertising slots when the audience viewership is sufficient, to effect more individuals to purchase the product. Television advertising economic role has many effects upon society, including its role in decreasing competition, and it financial marginalization of print media (McAllister, 2005).


With the extreme technological advancement with television, the future of television is going to the next level for it viewers. As television standards changed from the standard analog to the digital television, this allows for more channels to be broadcasted over the air waves. When digital television (DTV) first came to the market it shifted the way that we view television. Digital television is an improvement from the old analog system. DTV offers a clearer picture along with superior sound. This new technology freed up some of the broadcasting spectrum (Digital Television, 2009). In June of 2009, television broadcasting stations in the United States were required to only broadcast in the new digital format. The transition from analog to digital was called the digital television transition (Digital Television, n.d.). In 1996, Congress gave additional broadcasting channels to television stations to continue simultaneously broadcasting analog, while in the analog to digital transition. On June 12, 2009, Congress set this date as the final cut of date for eliminating broadcasting analog signals. One of the main purposes of the switch was to free up the broadcasting spectrum for the public safety groups like police, fire departments, and rescues squads. (Digital Television). However, all the cable systems were not required to switch all of their channels to digital. Cable companies use digital channels and some analog channels this is because the government does not regulate how they transmit the signal (Digital Television).

Once DTV entered the market television had to be able to receive the signal. So manufactures began producing High Definition Televisions (HDTV) (Biagi, 2005). HDTV has two times the picture clarity of the standard definition. These television sets started out at about $10,000. Now the cost has decreased to around $1,000. Newer technology has emerged with the creation of the 4 K Ultra High Definition (UHD) television which is four times the picture quality as HDTV. Smart (LED), Light Emitting Diodes, Televisions are now taking the place of plasma televisions. The Smart Televisions are more energy efficient, has a clearer picture, has custom applications installed, and even has a camera attached for Skype. Some of the sets allowed users to speak commands using a voice command feature and even allows users to use hand gestures.

The internet is playing a big part in the future of television. The creation of content may soon be profitable online. Companies like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu are becoming the norm for viewing movies and shows. Netflix is generating revenue from series that have already debuted on air. This allows the viewers to choose where and when they view the content. With various ways to view internet television shows, such as through smartphones, tablets, laptops, or even smart LED TV’s, you are not limited to a single medium to watch your favorite shows (Jones As the mediums continue to be created, television will have to stay abreast on these newer technological devices. Advertisement on television will continue in the future. They will target users of smart phone and other mobile devices. Advertisers know everyone uses those devices, so this will be a good avenue to sale products audiences in the future.

Chapter Review

Television has changed drastically from the cathode ray tube in the late 1800’s, to the Community Antenna televisions in 1940’s, to viewing television online in 2008 (Campbell et al, 2012). Television provides hours of entertainment and news for our viewing purposes. The Three Major Networks: NBC, CBS, and ABC provided a beginning for other broadcast companies. The programs that they offered spanned from situational comedies to dramas, which is very similar to television programming today. Cable television, although very costly, provides a means for several different types of television programming and advertisements. Advertising will continue to have an economic impact on television because this is a major medium for advertising firms to reach the consumers. With the rise of social media, audiences will be able to interact with television shows like never before. They will continue to be able to use their electronic devices to view television shows and respond to television shows quickly and reach the masses. The future of television is inevitable, but will knowingly have an impact on our society as it has from the beginning of its existence.


  • Philo T. Farnsworth- Engineer the first electronics Television
  • Vladimir Zworykin- Invented the tube for television
  • Lines of resolution- lines of lighted dots that make up a television picture image
  • Pixels – the smallest dot on a display device that creates a television picture image
  • Video on Demand- a device with the ability to access recent, film movies new shows anytime
  • Big Three Networks- “the 3 first networks that dominated America Television: NBC, CBS and ABC”
  • Time shifts- viewers dictate when they choose to watch certain programs
  • Community antenna television (CATV)- a cable network that allow reception from local broadcast stations
  • High Definition television (HDTV)- consist of twice as many pixels on the screen as standard definition
  • Netflix- a service that allows you to stream TV shows and movies online through an electronics device
  • Twitter- a social network
  • 4 K Ultra High Definition (UHD)- Television with twice the resolution as (HDTV)
  • Coaxial cable – two conductor cable that is shielded to keep out electronics interference
  • FaceBook -a social network that was created for college student
  • Federal Communication Commission (FCC) - regulate communications of satellite, cable, wire, television


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