Experiments in broadcasting television began in the 1920s but were interrupted by World War II. The development of all-electronic television and the adoption (1953) of common television broadcasting standards for North America led to the growth of television broadcasting and commercial television networks in the 1950s. Noncommercial educational television developed more slowly, but the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and the establishment in 1968 of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a not-for-profit, nongovernmental agency, spurred its growth and that of noncommercial radio as well. The FCC's adoption of compatible color television standards in 1953 laid the groundwork for widespread color broadcasting from the mid-1960s. Standards for high-definition digital broadcasting, adoption in 1996, led to digital-only broadcasting in the United States in 2009. In 2016 there were nearly 1,400 commercial television stations on the air, and nearly 400 noncommercial stations.
New and competing technologies have had a tremendous impact on broadcasting and the ways in which people use it. The availability of small, high-quality portable and automotive receivers transformed radio listening, and listeners are now, at certain times of day, more likely to be in automobile that at home. Cable television dates to the 1950s but did not begin to supplant television broadcasting until the 1970s and 80s. It now reaches more than 80% of all U.S. homes, but in the 2010s its growth stagnated and even declined. Cable's development gave consumers a wider choice of programs from which to choose, and the new cable channels, most of them more specialized in the programming they offer, coupled with the wide availability of videocassettes and then DVDs, reduced the influence of the broadcast networks. Television and radio signals are also now transmitted from satellites direct to household satellite dishes, and fiber-optic networks operated by telecommunications companies offer television services that compete with cable television. Television and radio programs as well as motion pictures, music, talks, and the like also are now transmitted or downloaded over the Internet and cellular telephone networks, and viewed or heard using a computer, smart phone, or another electronics device with the appropriate software.
See E. Barnouw,
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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