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Information on Television


Television is a telecommunication system for broadcasting and receiving moving pictures and sound over a distance. The term has come to refer to all the aspects of television programming and transmission as well.

Table of contents
1 History
2 TV Standards
3 TV Aspect Ratio
4 Aspect Ratio Incompatibility
5 New Developments
6 TV Sets
7 Advertising
8 US Networks
9 Colloquial Names
10 Related Articles
11 External Links
12 Further Reading


Paul Gottlieb Nipkow proposed and patented the first electromechanical television system in 1884.

A semi-mechanical analogue television system was first demonstrated in London in February 1924 by John Logie Baird and a moving picture by Baird on October 30 1925. The first long distance public television broadcast was from Washington, DC to New York City and occurred on April 7, 1927. The image shown was of then Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover. A fully electronic system was demonstrated by Philo Taylor Farnsworth in the autumn of 1927. The first analogue service was WGY, Schenectady, New York inaugurated on May 11 1928. CBS's New York City station began broadcasting the first regular seven days a week television schedule in the U. S. on July 21, 1931. The first broadcast included Mayor James J. Walker, Kate Smith, and George Gershwin. The first all-electronic television service was started in Los Angeles, CA by Don Lee Broadcasting. Their start date was December 23, 1931 on W6XAO - later KTSL. Los Angeles was the only major U. S. city that avoided the false start with mechanical television.

The BBC launched the world's first regular broadcast television service, from Alexandra Palace in London on November 2, 1936. The outbreak of the Second World War caused the service to be suspended. TV transmissions only resumed from Alexandra Palace in 1946.

The first live transcontinental television broadcast took place in San Francisco, California from the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference on September 4, 1955.

Programming is broadcast on television stations (sometimes called channels). At first, terrestrial broadcasting was the only way television could be distributed. Because bandwidth was limited, government regulation was normal. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission allowed stations to broadcast advertisements, but insisted on public service programming commitments as a requirement for a license. By contrast, the United Kingdom chose a different route, imposing a television licence fee (effectively a tax) to fund the BBC, which had public service as part of its Crown Charter. Development of cable and satellite means of distribution in the 1970s pushed businessmen to target channels towards a certain audience, and enabled the rise of subscription-based television channels, such as HBO and Sky. Practically every country with the technological capability has developed at least one television channel.

TV Standards

The standard adopted by the US was called NTSC, which stood for National Television Standards Committee. NTSC is the television standard in the US, Canada, and Japan.

Germany developed the television standard called PAL, which stood for Phase Alternating Line, and introduced it in 1967. PAL is the television standard in the United Kingdom, much of Europe, Africa, Australia, and some parts of South America.

The French developed in 1967 the television standard called SECAM, Sequentiel Couleur avec Mémoire, French for "sequential color with memory". The SECAM standard was used mostly in France and Eastern European "Warsaw Pact" countries.

There are various kinds of television broadcast systems:

TV Aspect Ratio

All of these early TV systems shared the same aspect ratio of 4:3, which was determined by the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) manufacturing technology of the time -- today's CRT technology allows the manufacture of wider tubes. However, due to the negative heavy metal health effects associated with disposal of CRTs in landfills and the space-saving attributes of flat screen technologies that lack the aspect ratio limitations of CRTs, CRTs are becoming obsolete.

The switch-over to DTV systems co-incides with a change in picture format from a aspect ratio of 4:3 (1.33:1) to an aspect ratio of 16:9 (1.78:1). This enables TV to get closer to the aspect ratio of movies, which range from 1.85:1 to 2.35:1. The 16:9 format was first introduced for "widescreen" video and DVDs. The current technical implementation of 16:9 uses the same pixel raster as 4:3 video, in a full screen anamorphic format.

There is no technical reason for this aspect ratio change to be coupled with the introduction of DTV, but it has been decided to synchronize these changes for marketing reasons.

Aspect Ratio Incompatibility

A wide image on a conventional screen can be shown:

  • with "letterbox" black stripes at the top and bottom
  • with the extreme left and right of the image falling off (or in "pan and scan", parts selected by an operator)
  • with the image horizontally compressed

A conventional image on a wide screen can be shown:
  • with black parts at the left and right
  • with the top and bottom of the image falling off
  • with the image horizontally expanded

A common compromise is to shoot or create material at an aspect ratio of 14:9, and to lose some image at each side for 4:3 presentation, and some image at top and bottom for 16:9 presentation.

Horizontal expansion has advantages in situations in which several people are watching the same set; it compensates for watching at an oblique angle.

New Developments

TV Sets

The earliest television sets were radios with the addition of a television device consisting of a neon tube with a mechanically spinning disk (the Nipkow disk, invented by Paul Gottlieb Nipkow) that produced a red postage-stamp size image . The first publicly broadcast electronic service was in Germany in March 1935. It had 180 lines of resolution and was only available in 22 public viewing rooms. One of the first major broadcasts involved the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The Germans had a 441 line system in the fall of 1937. (Source: Early Electronic TV)

Television usage skyrocketed after World War II with war-related technological advances and additional disposable income. (1930s TV receivers cost the equivalent of $7000 today (2001) and had little available programming.)

Television in its original and still most popular form involves sending images and sound over radio waves in the VHF and UHF bands, which are received by a receiver (a television set). In this sense, it is an extension of radio.

Color television became available on December 30, 1953, backed by the CBS network. The government approved the color broadcast system proposed by CBS, but when RCA came up with a system that made it possible to view color broadcasts in black and white on unmodified old black and white TV sets, CBS dropped their own proposal and used the new one.

Starting in the 1990s, modern television sets diverged into three different trends:

  • standalone TV sets;
  • integrated systems with DVD players and/or VHS VCR built into the TV set itself (mostly for small size TV with up to 17" screen, the main idea is to have a complete portable system);
  • component systems with separate big screen video monitor, tuner, audio system which the owner connects the pieces together as a high-end home theater system. This approach appeals to videophiles who prefer components which can be upgraded separately.

There are many kinds of video monitors used in modern TV sets. The most common are direct view CRTs for up to 40" (4:3) and 46" (16:9) diagonally. Most big screen TVs (up to over 100") use projection technology. Three types of projection systems are used in projection TVs: CRT based, LCD based and reflective imaging chip based. Modern advances have brought flat screens to TV that use active matrix LCD or plasma display technology. Flat panel displays are as little as 4" thick and can be hung on a wall like a picture. They are extremely attractive and space-saving but they remain expensive.

Nowadays some TVs include a port to connect peripherals to it or to connect the set to an A/V home network (HAVI), like LG RZ-17LZ10 that includes a USB port, where one can connect a mouse, keyboard and so on (for WebTV).

Even for simple video, there are five standard ways to connect a device. These are as follows:

  • Component Video- three separate connectors, with one brightness channel and two color channels (hue and saturation), and is usually referred to as Y, B-Y, R-Y or Y Pr Pb. This provides for high quality pictures and is usually used inside professional studios. However, it is being used more in home theater for DVDs and high end sources. Audio is not carried on this cable.

  • SCART- A large 21 pin connector that may carry Composite video, S-Video or for better quality, separate red, green and blue (RGB) signals and two-channel sound, along with a number of control signals. This system is standard in Europe but rarely found elsewhere.

  • S-Video- two separate channels, one carrying brightness, the other carrying color. Also referred to as Y/C video. Provides most of the benefit of component video, with slightly less color fidelity. Use started in the 1980s for S-VHS, Hi-8 and early DVD players to relay high quality video. Audio is not carried on this cable.

  • Composite video- The most common form of connecting external devices, putting all the video information into one stream. Most televisions provide this option with a yellow RCA cable. Audio is not carried on this cable.

  • Coaxial or RF (coaxial cable)- All audio channels and picture components are transmitted through one wire and modulated on a radio frequency. Most TVs manufactured during the past 15-20 years accept coaxial connection, and the video is typically "tuned" on channel 3 or 4.


From the earliest days of the medium, television has been used as a vehicle for
advertising. Since their inception in the USA in the late 1940s, TV commercialss have become far and away the most effective, most pervasive, and most popular method of selling products of all sorts. US advertising rates are determined primarily by Nielsen Ratings

US Networks

In the US, television networks produce prime-time programs for their affiliate stations to air from 8pm-11pm Monday-Saturday and 7pm-11pm on Sunday. (7pm and 10pm, 6pm and 10pm respectively in the Central and Mountain time zones). Most stations have their own programming off the prime time. The FOX Network does not produce programming for the last hour of prime time; as a result, many FOX affiliates air a local news program at that time. 2 newer broadcasting networks, The WB and UPN, also do not provide the same amount of network programming as so-called traditional networks.

Colloquial Names

  • Telly
  • The Tube/Boob Tube
  • The Goggle Box
  • The Cyclops

Related Articles

External Links

See also Charles Francis Jenkins.

Further Reading

TV as social pathogen, opiate, mass mind control, etc

  • Jerry Mander Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
  • Marie Winn The Plug-in Drug
  • Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death
  • Terence McKenna Food of the Gods
  • Joyce Nelson The Perfect Machine

Alternate use of the term:
Television (band)

Television Act of 1954

Television Act, 1954

The Television Act of 1954 was the law which permitted the creation of the first commercial television network in the United Kingdom.

By the early 1950s, the only television service in Britain was operated as a monopoly by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and financed by the annual television licence fee payable by each household which contained one or more television sets. The new Conservative government elected in 1951 wanted to create a commercial television channel, but this was a controversial subject -- the only other examples of commercial television were to be found in the United States, and it was widely considered that the commercial television found there was "vulgar". The solution to the problem was to create the Independent Television Authority which would closely regulate the new commercial channel in the interests of good taste, and award franchises to commercial companies for fixed terms (see the entries for the ITA and ITV).

The first commercial franchises were awarded in 1954, and commercial television started broadcasting in stages between 1955 and 1962.

Television commercial

From the earliest days of the medium, television has been used as a vehicle for advertising. Since their inception in the late 1940s, television commercials have become far and away the most effective, most pervasive, and most popular method of selling products of all sorts. The radio advertising industry was well-established when television made its debut in the 1940s, and television was intentionally developed as a commercial medium, based upon radio's successful format, by the first television broadcasting networks (especially RCA, the founder and owner of the NBC Red and NBC Blue networks).

In the earliest days of television, it was often difficult to perceive the boundary between the actual television programs and the commercials. Many of the earliest television shows were sponsored by single companies, who inserted their names and products into the shows as much as possible. One of the most famous examples of early television broadcasting was Texaco Star Theater, the variety show that made Milton Berle a household name. Texaco not only included its own brand name as part of the show, it also made certain that Texaco employees were prominently featured during the course of the show, often appearing as smiling "guardian angels" who performed good deeds in one way or another, while the Texaco musical logo would play in the background.

Today in the 21st century, media critics claim that the boundaries between "programming" and "commercials" have been eroded to the point where the line is blurred nearly as much as it was during the beginnings of the medium.

However, the vast majority of television commercials consist of brief advertising spots, ranging in length from a few seconds to several minutes (as well as program-length infomercials). Commercials of this sort have been used to sell literally every product imaginable over the years, from household products to goods and services, to political campaigns. The effect of television commercials upon the viewing public has been so successful and so pervasive that it is considered impossible for a politician to wage a successful election campaign without airing a good television commercial.

These brief commercial "breaks" that interrupt shows regularly are the primary reason for the existence of modern-day television networks. A typical 30-minute time block includes 23 minutes of programming and 7 minutes of commercials (though some half-hour blocks may have as much as 12 minutes of commercials). The programming is intended as a way to capture the attention of the audience, keeping the viewers glued to the television set so that they will not want to get up and change the channel; instead, they will (hopefully) watch the commercials while waiting for the next segment of the show. Entire industries exist that focus solely on the task of keeping the viewing audience interested enough to sit through commercials. The Nielsen ratings system exists as a way for stations to determine how successful their television shows are, so that they can decide what rates to charge advertisers for their commercial airtime.

The TV commercial is generally considered the most effective mass-market advertising format, and this is reflected by the high prices TV networks charge for commercial airtime during popular TV events. The annual Super Bowl football game is known as much for its commercial advertisements as for the game itself, and the average cost of a single thirty-second TV spot during this game has reached $2 million (as of 2003).

British commercial television is not quite so relentlessly geared to the needs of the advertisers and there are fewer interruptions. Nevertheless, the amount of commercial airtime allowed by the Independent Television Authority and its successors has risen from 7 minutes per hour in the 1970s to 12 minutes today.

Commercials take airtime away from programmes. In the 1960s a typical hour-long American show would run for 51 minutes excluding commercials. Today a similar program would only be 42 minutes long. In other words, over the course of 10 hours an American viewer will see approximately an hour and a half more commercials than he did in the sixties. Furthermore, if that sixties show is rerun today it is almost certain to be cut by 9 minutes to make room for the extra commercials.

Because a single television commercial can be broadcast repeatedly over the course of weeks, months, and even years (the Tootsie Roll company has been airing a famous commercial that asks "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop?" for over three decades), television commercial production studios often spend enormous sums of money in the production of one single thirty-second television spot. This vast expenditure has resulted in a number of high-quality commercials, ones which boast of the best production values, the latest in special effects technology, the most popular personalities, and the best music. A number of television commercials are so elaborately produced that they can considered miniature sixty-second movies; indeed, many motion picture directors have directed television commercials both as a way to gain exposure and to earn a paycheck. One of film director Ridley Scott's most famous cinematic moments was a television commercial he directed for the Macintosh computer, that aired in 1984. Even though this commercial only aired once, it has become famous and well-known, to the point where it is considered a classic television moment.

The advent of technologies such as TiVo has caused much speculation about the future of television commercials.

See also: List of television commercials, advertising, marketing

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Television licence

In some countries, if you own a television set, you will have to have a licence to receive signals on it. Television licensing is common in Europe, Africa and Asia, but less so in the Americas.

Table of contents
1 Licence Fee in the UK
2 Notes
3 Licence Fee in the Ireland
4 Sources and external links

Licence Fee in the UK

In the UK, these fees are set by Parliament, paid annually via the Post Office and go directly to the funding of the BBC, enabling it to run without advertisements. The licence fee, initially for radio sets (exempt since 1971), was mandated by the 1904 Wireless Telegraphy Act. The fee was originally 10 shillings and in 2003 was 116 (US$205) for colour TV and 38.50 (US$68) for monochrome TV. There are concessions for the old (free for over 75s) and the blind (50% off).

It is believed that approximately 5% of TVs are unlicensed. With the BBC's increased world output (including its online services) there has been a debate as to the abolition of the TV licence, which has been denounced as unfair by competing television companies.

According to the definition of TV receiving apparatus [1], a licence must be obtained for any device which is "installed or used" for receiving broadcasts, which potentially covers devices such as a tuner card in a PC or a portable television. However a television installed and used for some other purpose, such as a closed-circuit monitor or a games console, is exempt provided it is never used for receiving broadcasts.

Enforcement in the UK is done by maintaining a database of all addresses in the country, with electronics retailers being subject to large fines if they do not pass on the addresses of anyone buying television receiving equipment. Addresses with no licence are automatically assumed to actually have a television, and are subject to repeated mailshots and visits by the enforcement agency, which causes a great deal of resentment on the part of those with no television. In addition to the database, electronic detectors are used to pick up the small amount of energy reradiated by the local oscillator in the tuning circuitry. It's open to doubt how well the much advertised detectors would work on a tuner card within the electrically noisy Faraday cage enclosure of a PC: the simpler method of calling round and looking for the aerial or an operating television would seem more effective.

The scheme has been condemned as a regressive tax, in that the very poorest are those least likely to have a licence (which costs more every year than buying several second-hand televisions), and least able to pay the fine for not having a licence. A report ("TV sinners", March 1998) by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux pointed out that failure to pay the fine is the single largest reason for the imprisonment of single mothers.

However in its favour, it can be said that it does link use of a television to payment of the licence fee. This implies that if someone does not wish to watch television, they can choose not to pay for the service. This is an advantage over the alternative method of funding through advertising which forces everyone to pay for the television service, albeit indirectly, whether they watch television or not.


[1] The Wireless Telegraphy (Television Licence Fees) Regulations 1991 gives the following definition:

2. The following class or description of television receiving apparatus is hereby specified for the purposes of the definition of "television receiver" in the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949[5], namely such apparatus installed or used for the purpose of receiving television programme services, as defined by section 2(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1990, whether or not the apparatus is installed or used for other purposes.

Licence Fee in the Ireland

In 2003, the television licence in Ireland is 150 euro. It is free to over age 70 and some over 66.

Sources and external links

Television program

A television program (American usage) or television programme (British usage) is a presentation in a television broadcast which may be either a one-off broadcast or, more usually, a periodically returning one. A television series is an example of the latter type.

The content of television programs may be factual (e.g. documentaries) or fictional (e.g. comedy or drama).

A drama program usually features a set of actors in a somewhat familiar setting. The program follows their lives and their adventures. Every program progresses the plot, the characters, or both.

Common TV program periods include regular broadcasts (like TV news), TV series (usually seasonal and ongoing with a duration of only a few episodes to many seasons), or TV mini-series which is an extended film, usually with a small pre-determined number of episodes and a set plot and timeline.

Common TV program formats include:

See also: List of television programs

This page created and maintained by Jamie Sanderson.
© Jamie Sanderson 1999-2005.