Cable television also opened up the medium to numerous types of television programming that had previously been excluded, simply because it could never have competed with the demand for mainstream types of programs during the same time slot.
Initially, cable television was only available in the largest markets like New York and Los Angeles and it was priced out of the range of most consumers. The technology also required a cable connecting the television to the channel box, which often was the size of small dinner platter. Within a few years, the technology advanced to the point of providing microwave remote controls that were no larger than those already included with many television sets.
The addition of virtually unlimited available channels resulted in the creation of dozens of specialty-interest program content such as cable television channels dedicated exclusively to history, science, nature, sports, politics, and comedy, to name just several.
In no small way, cable television was responsible for the origin of the 24-hour news cycle, even before the increasing popularity of personal computers and the Internet shortly before the turn of the 21st century.
Critics have also implicated television news for focusing excessively on stories and subjects known to increase ratings at the expense of the quality and depth of the information provided on much more important issues. With a substantial portion of contemporary Americans receiving most of their news from television, this excessive concern with ratings among television executives may rightfully be accused of contributing to the "dumbing down" of the population.
Whereas cable television offered viewers increased options of available programming, it still did not fundamentally change the fact that viewers had to watch whatever was available to them on the schedule established by the networks and cable television companies. The introduction of the Sony Betamax in 1982 ushered in the video revolution that completely eliminated the need to watch television at a time specified by television executives.
Video cassette recorders allowed viewers to record television programs for replay at a time of their choice, in addition to allowing them to fast-forward through the commercials if they so desired. Likewise, the evolution of the prerecorded video cassette rental industry thrived throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, competing directly with the television networks, particularly when the movie industry began steadily churning out videos of their wide screen productions on a constant schedule that mirrored their primary product except with a lag time mostly dictated by the success of the feature in theaters.
The age of video cassettes ended with the increased availability and affordability of digital recording systems that use a computer chip instead of magnetic tape to record television programming. Today, many local cable television companies offer the option of digital recording cable boxes that allow viewers to preprogram their favorite programs (or actors or type of programming by name) into their digital recorders which then automatically record desired programs and store as many as 80 or 100 hours of programming for viewing on request. Likewise, the technology has improved to the point that television sports viewers can freeze and replay live broadcasts in real time.
The Inevitable Decline of Network Television in the 21st Century:
The increased growth of personal computers in American society and the continual evolution of more powerful computer chips has further reduced the hold of television on the collective attention of ordinary Americans. Special events such as live sports events and political speeches and debates still capture large percentages of the available television viewing public, but those percentages are miniscule compared with the ratings of television programming in the era when the consumer had little choice in the matter.
Today, the value of television advertising is still tremendous, but it is conceivable that this well will too run out eventually. Already, millions of viewers who do watch the shows created and scheduled by television executives to appeal to their specific demographic groups within the audience do so without ever watching the commercials that sponsor the programs; they simply fast forward them or even program their digital recording devices to automatically skip recording them in the first place, leaving nothing to fast-forward on the replay.
Already, consumers do not have to watch any live television; for that matter, they no longer even have to record much of anything televised at the time that it first airs. Video on-demand services are included in many local cable packages, allowing consumers to call up a movie, cable television program, or a specific episode of a program available on the cable television system. Presently, the list of programs available on-demand is considerably smaller than the entire list of available cable television programming; nevertheless, it is likely that within a few more years, all television programming will follow the on-demand format. In that regard, the music recording industry may provide a model for the future of scheduled broadcast television. Specifically, computer technology and the capability of file-sharing software substantially ruined the commercial potential of the music recording industry. At first, illegal file sharing was the primary issue facing music industry executives. Even beyond the concern of illegal proliferation of copied music files, the evolution of computerized audio systems completely undermined the financial viability of producing entire albums when consumer demand for (even authorized) downloadable music files created a much greater need for publishing successful music singles. Several popular musical artists have even begun distributing their latest releases online for free, out of recognition of the decreased value of direct sales and hoping to promote a greater interest in their live performances.
Just this week, television industry reports indicated that millions of Americans tuned in to see Sarah Palin on NBC's Saturday Night Live; however, those reports also conceded that just as many viewers watched that particular clip only, by downloading it from youtube.com, a popular website for hosting video files. In all likelihood, the era of television is destined for eventual extinction in the United States for several reasons.
According to many experts in the evolution of computer technology, within the next decade, most media will be computer based and a main home computer terminal will replace television in American homes exactly the way television replaced radio in the middle of the 20th century. Future generations of American consumers will probably watch whatever programs they want to by selecting from all the programs and movies available on thousands of channels producing viewable content across the globe for viewing whenever they wish instead of at any specific time.
This also parallels the evolution of life and prerecorded programmed music performances on the radio to the private purchase and recording of music as the technology to do so became available and affordable. Notwithstanding its dominance over the American media for nearly six decades, television as we have come to know it will probably be a distant memory for Americans within only one or…