Is TV Dead?

April 9, 2014 by: cindy warrington


By PF Wilson

Regularly scheduled television broadcasting began in the United States just after World War II. It quickly wove its way into the very fabric of American, and eventually global, culture. Today it still permeates our culture. But is TV as we know it dead?

That depends on who you ask. For older generations of course, TV has changed quite a bit, at least in the way it is delivered to viewers. In the early days and up through the 1970s, TV was broadcast over the air, with the average home able to receive an average of 5 or 6 channels, depending on the surrounding population; the bigger the population, the more channels were available. In the late 70s, cable became widely available throughout the U.S. making dozens of new channels available to viewers. In 2009, the over the air system received a re-boot of sorts, as digital TV was introduced. The new system brought sharper pictures, as well as the ability for local broadcast channels to put out several different signals at once, thus being able to show three completely different programs simultaneously via sub-channels.

Cable TV gained a rival in the early 1990s with the arrival of satellite TV. This new delivery system not only brought price competition, but a way for people to get programming in areas not served by cable TV. While many experts thought satellite would kill cable, as well as video rental stores, another rival loomed on the horizon: the Internet.

Indeed it was the Internet that wiped out video rental stores, and became a rival for cable and satellite providers in two fronts. First, the Internet provided a platform that drew eyeballs away from TV. Secondly, it started to provide programming of its own.  The cable companies wised-up quickly and became Internet service providers.

In an episode of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “The Neutral Zone,” the crew of the Enterprise, in the 24th century, find 3 humans from the 20th century cryogenically frozen in a stray satellite. During the course of the episode, one of the survivors asks if it would be possible to watch some television, whereupon he is told by Commander Data that: “That particular form of entertainment did not last much beyond the year two thousand-forty.” That episode was written in 1988, but even today there are those who predict the demise of television.

An interesting forecast, but how accurate is it? Even though the delivery systems have changed, TV programming basically has not. Saying TV won’t be around after 2040, is like saying people will stop performing plays, writing songs, or reading fiction. How we get the programs will no doubt change, but many of the basic constructs will likely exist. The hour-long drama (or 45 minutes, without commercials), the half-hour (nay 22 minute) sit-com, and so on, will probably still be common formats.

Back to the present

Cable TV, Internet access, and downloads cost money, and can be a real drain on your budget. However, there are many affordable ways to enjoy TV here in the 21st century, including affordable options to cable and satellite service. Streaming devices such as Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV are also available. The best way to decide the best option for your budget is to find out what you want to watch, and which services offer it.