Development Stages and Future of Tv Technology

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Television is the mass media Americans consume the most nowadays. With a production getting broader and broader, experts often say we have reached a new Golden Age for television. But with the emergence of platforms such as Netflix or Hulu, the traditional media seems to be facing threats. Television production is going towards a more customized and portable experience, thus disturbing its mass medium features.

The TV experimental success

Before becoming prevalent, television was an experimental medium developed by commercial radio stations. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC), the Columbia Broadcasting Station (CBS) and the American Broadcasting company (ABC), originally radio stations, created in the 1940s their own TV channels broadcasted over the air. But it was not until the end of World War II that TV started developing. TV sets were expensive at first so the expected audience was minor compared to the one of radio, the most consumed mass media at the time. Also, there was no backup from the movie industry that saw TV as a threat. During its early days, TV programming was thus made with very limited means. It was transmitted live, relying on musical performances, sport events or sermons.

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The first TV shows were in fact duplicates of the ones on the radio. But the new device itself created astonishment and therefore was way more entertaining. One could watch plays adaptations, westerns, quiz game and soap operas, so called because those women orientated dramas used to be sponsored by household products. Variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS and situations comedies or sitcoms also contributed to the popularity of TV. But its democratization was spurred by outstanding technological advancement.

The TV mass media

Technological progress helped establish the ubiquity of the small screen. More and more households were equipped with the new device as it became more affordable. Soon, a cultural change happened and TV outstripped the old radio as a mass media. Videotape technology made the live transmitted plays obsolete thus ending what scholars refer to as the first Golden Age of television. “Whereas 80 percent of network television was broadcast live in 1953, by 1960 that number was down to 36 percent“. It also helped the development of sports programming allowing replay. The 1960s also proved television political force with the first televised presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy and the rise of TV journalism covering serious issues such as the Vietnam War. This was fostered by the advent of satellites that enabled telecommunications across long distances.

By that time and thereafter in the 1970s, TV was a shared experience, among one’s family and the nation. There were only three big commercial networks, NBC, CBS and ABC. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and its educational programs rounded off the landscape. That irremediably changed with the development of cable service.

Cable: more choice

Cable technology was first created in 1948 but it was developed extensively in the 1980s (Thompson & Allen). For a monthly fee, Americans could enjoy services that had never been on network TV. Home Box Office (HBO), launched in 1972, offered recent, uncut and commercial-free movies. Among others, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) pleased for sports fan, the Cable News Network (CNN) aimed for the news addicts and Music television (MTV) touched on the youth. The choice in the programs was now tremendous. “People in some cities went from 3 to 50 choices on the day their cable was installed. And that diversity kept going unceasingly in the 1990s. With the democratization of the videocassette recorder (VCR) at home, viewers taped their favorite show to watch it later. TV viewing was turning into a more customized and thus individualized experience. What’s more, immediacy no longer characterized TV as time shift became more and more common.

Digitization, place shift and the cord cut era

Nowadays, spatiotemporal shifts and customization is still in progress and traditional media has to keep pace to stay relevant. TV’s biggest watershed was digitization, the process of converting TV into a digital format. Over the air broadcast doesn’t exist anymore. The US switched to full digital TV signal in 2009. After the VCR, and the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) in the 2000s, time shifts are carried out today by video on demand (VOD) services that give users more choice and interactivity. Cable and satellites bundles seems not to suit anymore. More and more people, especially among the youth, are “cutting the cord” that is subscribing for online services only. In 2015, “a report from the analytics company comScore said that nearly a quarter of those between 18 and 34 don’t subscribe to pay TV”.

Instead, people go for online on-demand services like Netflix or Amazon Prime for movies and TV series. Hulu, created in 2007, has options whether you want to watch live TV or on-demand episodes. To keep pace, channels such as HBO or CBS have launched their own online subscription services. Recently, both Disney, owner of ABC and ESPN, and Facebook announced they would launch streaming services (Roose).At the same time, we see a place shift happening in TV viewing. From now on, the television as a device is not fundamental. With online streams and mobile devices such as computers, smartphones or tablets, TV can get in everyone’s hands, everywhere.


The future of TV is definitively online. But it does not hold the same expectations for everyone. Some, like this journalist for the New York Times, fear an overwhelming jumble of on-demand services that “cost more and often offer less than the old cable bundle”. Others, such as Xiaofeng Wang, a senior analyst, feel it will give the users the power to choose: “With an abundance of options, consumers will vote with their wallets and select winners and losers based on quality of content and price”. For now, “television continues to shape people’s attitudes on a variety of social and cultural issues”. But when the cord-nevers, younger generations that grew up with online options, will take over, TV as we know it should fade away. The TV as a device will still exist but in a smarter form : “we will simply have a high-definition screen with which we can interact, accessing the web or social media even as we watch our favorite programs”. The viewers will be offered suggestions based on their data information and will be able to choose among a variety of options whether it is lying down and channel surf on online live TV or choosing actively a program on demand.


Television production is turning into an a la carte experience. It began as an exciting experiment and rapidly evolved in a mass media praised by all in the United States. TV technology never stopped improving, giving consumers what they desired and more. Today, with the prominence of Internet, TV is reshaping itself to follow the high paced technological progress it faces and the changings in viewing habits. More than any other media, television production is a clear example of convergence.

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