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GCSE Media Studies Television


“Television — a medium. So called because it is neither rare nor well-done.”— Ernie Kovacs

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”— Groucho Marx

“ It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper. ”—Rod Serling

“Television tells a story in a way that requires no imagination; the picture on the screen and the sound provide all we need to know-there is nothing to fill in. Television watching should more properly be called television staring; it engages eye and ear simultaneously in a relentless and persistent way and leaves no room for daydreaming.”—Witold Rybczynski

“Television is more interesting than people. If it were not, we would have people standing in the corners of our rooms.”—Alan Corenk

“ Television is for appearing on - not for looking at.”—Noel Coward

“Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America – not on the battlefields of Vietnam.”—Marshall McLuhan

“Television: chewing gum for the eyes.”—Frank Lloyd Wright

“Television could perform a great service in mass education, but there's no indication its sponsors have anything like this on their minds.”—Tallulah Bankhead

“There's nothing on it worthwhile, and we're not going to watch it in this household, and I don't want it in your intellectual diet.”—Philo T. Farnsworth

Television revolutionised the 20th century. No other mass medium before it had quite the same impact, and it remains to be seen whether the Internet will mark the 21st century in quite the same way. As you can see from the above quotations, humanity has something of a love-hate relationship with television. Where there is no question of the effect that television has had on the way we live our lives, there is constant debate on how 'good' television is for us. Because we receive television on a one-to-one basis, in the privacy of our homes, in living rooms and bedrooms, or via tablets or smartphones, there are questions raised about what all this close, personal contact does to our minds. At the same time, television is one of the most powerful tools for learning and communication ever invented, coming close to the printing press in the impact it has had on human history (and it's only been around for a century).

What Is Television?

In the 20th century, defining television was easy. "Television" was either the 'system for transmitting visual images and sound, chiefly used to broadcast programmes for entertainment, information, and education' or it was the device on which those programmes were received. It was the only home entertainment available to most families from the 1950s to the 1980s (and the arrival of home video) and they consumed it enthusiastically, for an average of three hours per viewer per day.

In the 21st century, the system and the device are no longer linked. Most homes still receive broadcast signals, but only a small proportion of households depend solely on TV for their entertainment. There are plenty of alternatives: internet connections, mobile phones, subscriptions to cable or satellite services, online movie streaming, Blu-ray discs and DVDs, video games and social media. People watch TV programmes on range of devices, when and how they choose, and are no longer concerned with traditional network schedules (including watersheds) or broadcast and subscription models. Is TV still TV if you're binge-watching a show on your tablet or browsing clips on YouTube via your smartphone?

Television broadcasting may not have the hold on our collective eyeballs that it once did, but it's not yet obsolete. It is still the most powerful method to get information to huge swathes of the population at once, whether that information is about an impending natural disaster or a live broadcast of the Olympic Games opening ceremony. Much of the entertainment we enjoy on our handheld devices originated with television production companies, and was first aired via traditional broadcast TV. Television is evolving, rather than dying, and will be with us as a medium for many years to come.

Who Invented TV?

No one person can lay claim to the invention of television. Various inventors from Russia, Britain and America were working on the idea of broadcasting pictures during the 1920s, and there was much confusion over who got there first. If you ask a Brit who invented television, they'll tell you "John Logie Baird" (who was Scottish). If you ask an American, they'll point out Philo Farnsworth, who was from Utah.

The following people made an important contribution:

TV Networks

Once TV hit the market as a product consumers could buy, someone had to start making programmes to go on it to give them a reason to buy it. Read about the history of some of the TV networks and broadcasting companies here.