The Broadcast Empire Strikes Back

Released: 28-Nov-2012 5:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: IEEE Spectrum Magazine
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Newswise — Like many Americans who grew up in the middle of the 20th century, broadcasting expert Lynn Claudy has fond memories of his family crowded around a snowy, rabbit-eared tube to watch Bonanza and The Ed Sullivan Show on weekend nights. Back then, broadcast television was king. It was all we had and we were crazy about it.

By 1960, televisions had found a place in more than three-fourths of homes across the United States. This was just 35 years after Scottish inventor John Logie Baird transmitted the first picture broadcast ever--the moving image of a ventriloquist's dummy--from his laboratory to a room next door. Throughout the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, the average viewer was watching about three hours of programming a day, most of it sent on airwaves.

Today, time spent watching TV is at an all-time high. But the 21st century has brought dramatic and permanent changes to the television landscape. And no other entertainment industry has been as deeply affected as broadcasting.

Although broadcast signals still reach almost every American home, fewer than 20 percent depend on them for entertainment. More households now have Internet connections and mobile phones than own HDTV sets. And most of us who do watch television aren't satisfied with only the scheduled programs we get over the air. So we buy subscriptions to cable or satellite services, stream movies online, play Blu-ray discs, download games on tablets and smartphones, browse videos on YouTube, share them on Facebook, and talk about them on Twitter.

As the modern media cornucopia grows ever more bountiful, Claudy responds to the inevitable question: Do we really need--or even want--broadcasting anymore?


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