The History of Television

In this report I will be looking at the main form of mass media communication in society today, Television, I will document and evaluate the effects that TV has had on society both its negative and positive effects. I will also look at the history of Television and how it became so popular, as well as investigating what the future holds for TV.

The history of television dates back to the 19th century when scientists started to learn how to send communication signals through the air as electromagnetic waves. But it wasn’t until 1926 when John Baird showed off his invention at a fanfare in London, this original invention was poor in quality and the picture was grainy however it was an incredible breakthrough in communication technology. Baird went on to develop his idea and in 1927 using the post office telephone lines, he was able to send a television transmission 438 miles from London to Glasgow. In the following year he transmitted images to an amateur radio operator in Hartsdale, New York. It was the first transatlantic demonstration of television.

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During the late 1920s and 1930s many experimental telecasts took place, the main companies involved in these experiments were The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Central Broadcasting Station (CBS) and National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in the United States. Then in 1936 using Baird’s device of transmitting pictures using electric wire, the BBC went on air for the first time. (TV Timeline appendix P14)

Television saw major developments during the Second World War for military and surveillance reason, and in the 1950s, technology advanced to a stage where filmed material could be broadcast on television with increasing ease and with improved quality of the picture.

The Queens Coronation in 1953 acted as a turning point for television, as this event attracted an increased number of viewers and from then on television was seen as a genuine form of mass medium communication.

As increasing demand for television continued, so did developments in the technology, and it was in 1967 when British television reached the colour period. Further improvements were made over the coming years and it was the 1980s that marked the arrival of a new kind of television, this was the introduction of cable and satellite television. This new technology offered the customers not just a few channels but hundreds of different ones, each offering different forms of programming, from news and entertainment to sport and education.

Since the introduction of satellite and cable television more and more channels have become available to the ever increasing audience, and things continue to advance to the present day as we now enter the digital age of television which not only offers us more channels and choice, it also gives us interaction, where the viewers have control over what they watch and when they watch it. (Digital TV today appendix P11)

TV’s Effect on Society

The question whether or not television has had a decisive influence on everyday life and has helped change society has been questioned by sociologists and psychologists for many years now.

“T.V. determines what people think and what they do and thus controls them psychologically and socially. It can make people think things they would not otherwise think, and do things they would not otherwise do.”(Srinati, 2000: 179)

This quote is an interesting one as it takes a sceptical view of the effect of television on society, although it may not be completely true, the invention of television and the mass media has become a unique feature of modern society. The development of television has accompanied an increase in the scale and complexity of social activities, technology innovation, increased personal income and standard of life, the decline of more traditional forms of control and authority and a massive social change across the world. Whether or not any of these factors were solely or partly contributed to by television is a matter of opinion, however there is an association between the development of television and the mass media and social change.

The television is viewed as the most important media technology across the world, it offers viewers entertainment, news, information etc. However there are many people and parents who believe that television is an “evil thing that rots the minds of youth.” When television first came out it was predicted that it would lead to children losing interest in books and school, and make kids intellectually lazy, more isolated and families would talk a lot less. However television also has the ability to educate, with a number of educational channels available for all ages, children and adults alike.

With the vast economic development through the years, more and more people have been able to afford a television in their homes, and by 1985 in Britain 98 per cent of households had a television and nearly half of them having two or more sets. One of the major advantages to the majority of the population for having access to television is that people can receive current and up to date news from around the world within the comfort of their house. The way many companies take advantage of television is through advertising, as they can reach a large audience and keep the customer aware of existing products on the market (TV and advertisements appendix P12). Not just consumer companies can use the television for advertising, it has also revolutionised the way political parties advertise and promote themselves. It allows political parties to portray their views and opinions to a majority of the voting public, which has eventually led to changes in the way the country is organised and run, therefore television is a very important political tool in today mass media world.

The global advances of television technology has brought about a multinational industry, this globalisation of television can be seen as ‘a process in which complex interconnections are rapidly developing between societies, institutions, cultures and individuals world wide’ (Barr, 2000, p. 31). This statement explains how people are exposed to different cultures and styles of living, and people are now more educated about others, and it can be argued less ignorant.

Unlike the past, television can now put people around the world in touch with one another. Companies can conduct meetings and conferences by video-conferencing, therefore saving time and promoting productivity. It enables information to be disseminated at a faster pace to a large population. As a result, global communications and relationships are enhanced, with it creating an informed democracy.

With the television industry expanding, the role and status of women and minority groups in a contemporary society have changed with educational opportunities. Prosperity and education brought more jobs and financial independence for these groups from 1970s onwards. Women in particular are seen as a profitable group within the television world, as they can attract large viewing figures, and this means that television production companies have over time come to rely on women as a fundamental group for programming. With the invention and development of television, it brought about economic development and it was because of this that many jobs and educational opportunities are possible for the people of today. In the present days, television also serves as platforms for debates in the aspect of education.

Television is seen by many has having an overall negative effect on society but as the Band Aid concert showed in the 1980s it can be used for good. The speed that the African famine was transmitted to the world and the number of people who saw the subsequent pop concert helped raise funds unheard of before.

“If the Judaic God had created a world as an advanced industrial civilization from scratch (s)he would probably have spent the seventh day in front of the television set”

(McGuigan, 1992: 129)

This is an interesting quote and can be taken and understood in many different ways, depending on the person interpreting the quote, if it is meant to be a derogatory statement against television and the mass media today, I think you have to look at the positive outcomes of the invention of television. For example in Britain today Television plays a distinctive role in the social and cultural life of contemporary Britain. It is a forum where the nation speaks for itself, where the different cultures and groups that make up our society can see themselves represented and from which majority obtain information that they require as citizens of this country.

“Television brings together cultural groups and raises a level of group consciousness through a distinctive use of language and cultural symbolism” (Ball-Roreach ; Cantor, 1986, p. 38). All these things would not have been possible without the invention of television. It is through television medium where a wide range of cultural activities can reach people in their homes. If television was not invented then some social and cultural events might not have occurred, therefore television can be seen as a medium in demonstrating social and cultural significance in today’s society.

TV and its Negative Effects

TV has not been around for that long, however many people have forgotten what it was like without it, some people claim we are nothing but living statues. There are many theories and ideas relating to television and its adverse influence on people and family life.

Many say that TV is simply a waste of time, and that it has a negative effect on society. Today many children and adults alike can be found watching television for several hours a day, with some households leaving the TV on all day even if no one is watching it. This is not only harmful to their health producing unfit so called ‘couch potatoes’ but also has an effect on their work and social life. Some people get so immersed in TV that they fail to communicate with people around them. This often exasperates generation gaps issues, causes family rifts, divorce and many other social problems.

Although these problems are serious, the main argument against overuse of television relates to its effect on children and how violence on TV can lead to violence in real life. The effect that violence on TV has on children often depends on the age of the child, how much television they actually watch and how they react to what they are watching.

“The more a child is exposed to violence on television, there is a greater chance it will have a long lasting effect on their behaviour”(Arnow, 1995:12).

“The more violence is watched by children, the more they may become less sensitive to the pain and sufferings of others and may be more likely to behave too aggressively or harmful towards others”(Luke, 1988:125).

These statements may or may not be accurate, but what is beyond doubt is that young children imitate adults, and learn from adults, therefore if a young child is allowed to view a substantial amount of television then it makes sense that they would start to imitate what they see. Also young children can not distinguish fantasy on television and reality, for example wrestling shown on the TV often makes children fight more in real life and try and imitate their wrestling hero’s. This is why parents should always remind their children that the television programs they watch do not reflect reality. “Parents should continually remind their children that television is not real life” (Luke, 1988:124).

Violence on TV has constantly increased since its invention, however it was really not until the 1980s when an increase in dramatic violence was noticed.

“In 1982, airtime for violence increased from 1.5 hours per week to 43 hours per week in 1986. And in 1980, most of the children’s programs featured 18.6 violent acts per hour and now have 26.5 violent acts per hour” (Smith, 1996:35).

It is evident that the airing of violent programs has increased throughout the years. “57 percent of television programs contain “psychologically harmful” violence that can lead to aggressive behaviour in a child (Spock, 1992:63). ”

These figures clearly illustrate the increase in violence that children are exposed to today, many people believe that this increased exposure can lead children to believe that the world around them is a mean and dangerous place. It is also said that children who watch violence on television are more likely to hit out, leave jobs unfinished, not conform to rules and laws and are less patient compared to children who watch non-violent programmes. The problem of television violence is not only linked with child violence but many believe that watching this on television can lead to problems later in life, as this quote shows, “Studies show that observing youngsters until they are thirty years of age, it is found that the ones who watched a lot of television when they were eight years of age were more likely to be arrested and prosecuted for criminal acts as adults (House of Commons, 1993:15).”

But can society really blame television for violent people, violence has been around long before the invention of television and logically if television was at the root of a lot of society problems it would have been outlawed by now. The truth is that there really isn’t any concrete evidence that proves that violence on TV produces violent people, “The statement linking TV violence to violent behaviour in children is a “political one, not one based on any conclusive, scientific evidence” (Arvidson 592).”

In America there have been some legal cases where defendants have blamed their actions on the influence of violent programs and movies had on them as a child, however on a majority of these cases it turns out there were other factors involved in their motivation to commit crimes, such as drugs and alcohol, or a history of violence, anti-social behaviour and mental illness.

In the world today parents have less time to spend with their siblings and use the TV as an unpaid nursemaid. This lack of interaction between parents and their young exasperates the communication problems leaving the child to learn all their experiences via the ‘box’ in the corner of the room. This means that from an early age it has more of an influence and so they believe and therefore often mimic what they see.

The Future of Television

What is the future of television?, currently we are in the start of a new era in television viewing, with the user having greater control over what and when they watch programs. Technology such as BskyB’s Sky Plus and America’s Tivo, allow the user to pause live TV, and even faster fast forward for record programs. This technology is much quicker and easier to use than video recorders, as users do not have to deal with large VHS tapes, this increased control and ease of viewing has proved popular with viewers.

Another technology that has become very popular in today’s world because of the increased control and interaction is the internet. The internet allows users to search and download exactly what they want to see. Many experts predict that the future of television will be on the internet. The internet has completely revolutionised the music industry with people today choosing to download songs off the net instead buying songs from shops. Many people believe the same fate is inevitable for television as well.

The advantages of using the internet TV is that the cost of delivering the programs will be reduced as transmitting channels wont cost as much, the interaction and control for the user will increase dramatically, advertising and sponsorship will become more efficient and the price for user will decrease and as they will only have to order channels they actually want. As the internet is global there will be no international constraints, therefore increasing the customer base. The cost of downloading programs and films will drop as well as, for example companies wont have to pay for creating numerous copies of films as people can simply download them to their hard drive.

Currently television content is shared on the internet through programs such as kazaa, however there are bandwidth constraints which making downloading these files time consuming, but this problem Is likely to be solved in the near future so that a majority of people have a better and faster internet connection.

The opportunity for internet television is an interesting and potentially successful transition, it would be beneficial for both the user and the companies supplying the product, as it would offer lower costs, nearly unlimited capacity, companies can target their key demographic for advertising etc, and it will offer increased interactivity for the viewers. In a time where there are hundreds of channels but nothing really to watch, internet television would help viewers sort through all the channels and programs to view exactly what they want to watch.

What this diagram illustrates is that if these two forms of mass communication combine as many experts believe will be the case, then this will form new type of Information Communication Technology, which will offer users more interaction, choice, diversity and entertainment.


Overall I believe that although there are links and studies that can link violence on television to violence in real life, children can be influenced by what they watch but it is more likely that an aggressive child would be aggressive with or without television and that these children would be potentially aggressive anyway. Also I believe it is the responsibility of the parents and adults in society to educate children from an early age that what they see on television doesn’t reflect real life, and make sure they know the difference between right or wrong, and if there is an violent programme on television then the easy thing to do is simply change the channel or turn it off completely. Television may be violent, but it is the decision of the individual person to decide how they act outside the house and in the real world.

I believe that television effect on society is hard to define as its invention and progression has been accompanied by many other factors, with along with television have helped to produce a massive social change worldwide. My opinion is that a majority of the viewing public see TV as a good source of education, entertainment and conversation, which has helped the world become more tolerant, respectful and knowledgeable.