✦ As the television nears its 100th birthday, we take a look at what’s behind the United Nations-curated World Television Day on November 21st.
The advent and progression of the internet may have moved us into the age of the information superhighway but there is no doubt that the good old television is still a consistent and popular medium from which people access their news and entertainment content on a daily basis. It is why in 1996 the United Nations staged the first World Television Forum, where leading media figures and political commentators convened to discuss the role the television plays in raising awareness on key international social and political issues, influencing and educating viewers and potentially easing conflicts throughout the world. The Forum was held on November 21 and since then the day has been officially recognised as World Television Day. It is not a celebration of the actual physical television itself but its symbolism and what it can potentially help achieve.
As the UN states, “Television continues to be the single largest source of video consumption. Though screen sizes have changed, and people create, post, stream and consume content on different platforms, the number of households with television sets around the world continues to rise.” According to statistics provided by EarthWeb, “there are over 1.72 billion homes with TVs worldwide, and this will continue to grow to more than 1.8 billion in 2026.” That is roughly one TV for every four people around the globe. The same site states that in 2021 around 99.66% of China’s population had access to a television and the average American spends 238 minutes a day watching TV.
The television is a constant in most homes in the developed world, something most of us grew up with and sourced much of our daily information on news and current events from. It is also how many of us consumed and still consume our entertainment fare, major sports events and coverage of international landmark events – the moon landing, the funerals of Princess Diana and John F Kennedy, the Live Aid concert, the O.J. Simpson chase and subsequent trial, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, and the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II are just a few examples of major events that have been broadcast into homes all over the world over the decades – it is estimated over four billion people watched Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral last year, the most watched event in global TV history. Even with the internet, smart phones, tablets and who knows what else, television still maintains its status as the leading medium of communication that informs, educates, entertains and influences decisions and opinions on a global scale.
Where It All Began
The term television originates from the Greek prefix “tele”, which means “far”, and the Latin word “visio”, meaning “sight or seeing from a distance”. The first public demonstration of televised silhouette images in motion was given by Scottish inventor John Logie Baird, at Selfridge’s Department Store in London on March 25, 1925. A couple of years later, 21-year-old American inventor Philo Taylor Farnsworth first successfully demonstrated electric television in San Francisco. The American company RCA then developed this prototype further through huge investment, televising the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the opening speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who became the first president to appear on television.
It was post-World War II, however, when commercial television really took off as the number of television sets in American homes increased from 6,000 in 1946 to 12 million in 1951. Initially in black and white, the first colour broadcast was made in 1954, before cable and satellite providers in the 1970s and 80s multiplied the number of channels into the hundreds. Nowadays, of course, we have the luxury of digital, internet driven content via state of the art smart TVs that elevate our viewing experience to an altogether different level.
Statistics cited by EarthWeb state that daily TV consumption is higher among adults over the age of 50 and Generation X viewers prefer watching traditional TV programs rather than watching digital videos. The generation most likely to watch cable TV are babyboomers, and among those 55 years and older, 38% watch cable TV more than any other platform, 21% were from ages 40-54, while 16% were from 25-39 years old, and only 9% were from ages 18-24.
Unsurprisingly, the same source cites the forecasting analyst eMarketer as stating that TV viewership in the USA increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it did globally - viewership among the 65 years old and above group, those more susceptible to infection and thus likely to remain indoors, rose by 4.9%, while viewership in the 25 to 34 age group grew by 4.3%, and 2% in the 45-54 age bracket.
While it remains the most popular source to consume media, the TV also arguably remains the most reliable, certainly in regards to informative content. Sure, there are providers and channels that have a very clear and obvious bias, especially on political issues (Fox News anyone?), but on the whole there is far more regulatory constraint on what is aired via TV. This is particularly pertinent when compared to the information superhighway of the internet, which is increasingly becoming rife with mis-information, inaccurate and ultimately harmful content. It is therefore fair to argue that in the increasingly digital age that the TV does still stand not only as the leader but as the smartest provider of information and content available.
In conclusion, we leave with with a couple of interesting, fun facts
The first ever commercial aired on TV was for a watch manufactured by Bulova Corporation. The commercial aired during a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941 and lasted for 20 seconds.
And finally, the last country in the world to introduce a local television service was Bhutan, in 1998. This was mainly due to the fact that all mass media was previously tightly controlled by the government, although things have loosened somewhat in recent years.
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