Television has come a long way in a very short time.  The means of watching,
recording, transmitting, and enjoying TV has progressed immensely in the short while
that it has been around.  More impressively, the impact that television has had on every
American’s life is beyond what the inventors could have possibly had in mind when the
television was first introduced in 1929.  This is the short, but enormous, life of television
so far.


It was not the first television, but in 1929, Vladimir Zworvkin introduced the first practical electronic system for both reception and transmission (10).  Soon after, seeing that television would be a strong influence in the years to come, the Communications Act was passed in 1934 (10).  This began the government control of television airwaves, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in charge of enforcing the act, which stated that commercial television stations must “operate in the public interest, conscience and necessity” (10).

It was in 1939 that RCA’s National Broadcasting Company (NBC) began regular telecasts from New York City (10).  Television kept advancing as in 1945 RCA introduced the “image orthicon”, which was seen as an incredible improvement in television picture quality (10).

In the 1940’s and 1950’s regularly scheduled programs began airing such as “Howdy Doody,” “Meet the Press,” “I Love Lucy,” and “The Today Show”(10).  By 1953 fifty-three percent of American households had televisions (10).  Television heated up in 1955 with the “game show craze,” which we a network devoted to today (10).  By the late 1950’s, “westerns” had become extremely popular, which brought the first public outcry concerning violence on television (10).  In 1958, Senator Estes Kefauver held congressional hearings concerning television violence and the rising rates of juvenile crime (10).  How would Senator Kefauver compare the “Wyatt Earp” of the mid 50’s to “NYPD Blue of today?

In only seven years, by 1960, it was reported that 90% of United States households own a television (10).  In 1962, Telestar I, a communications satellite was launched (10).  This allowed for worldwide live coverage and in 1969, an estimated 720 million people around the world tuned in to see Neil Armstrong walk on the moon (10).  Also in 1969, “Sesame Street” became a popular program for children, after the creation of Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967 (10).

In 1971, “All in the Family” debuted as creator Norman Lear began to tackle public issues such as racism and bigotry (10).  In the summer of 1973, the “Big Three” networks along with PBS carried the Senate Watergate hearings (10).  The hearings quickly became the most popular daytime program on that summer (10).

In January of 1977, ABC introduced the mini-series as “Roots” went on to set ratings records (10).
At this time, the Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) was introduced into the home market (10).  It revolutionized the way audiences watch television and changed how advertisers reach them (10).

In 1980, Interactive television was introduced, which allows viewers to cast votes on various local issues (10).  Also in 1980, cable television networks such as HBO begin to attract viewing audiences away from “the Big Three” networks (10).

In 1987, the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to devote equal time to controversial issues and give those with opposing views time to air them, was dropped by the FCC.  This was done in an attempt to further deregulate television programs (10).

In May of 1994, it is estimated that 99% of U.S. households have at least one television set (10).  Three years later, television networks introduced a program rating system similar to that used for movies (10).  This is designed to help parents censor what their children should be watching (10).


Almost all TVs in use today rely on a device known as the cathode ray tube, to display their images (6).  The terms anode and cathode are used in electronics as synonyms for positive and negative terminals (6).  In a cathode ray tube, the “cathode” is a heated filament. The heated filament exists in a vacuum created inside a glass tube (6). The “ray” is a stream of electrons that naturally pour off a heated cathode into the vacuum (6). The anode is positive, so it attracts the electrons pouring off the cathode (6). In a TV’s cathode ray tube, the stream of electrons is focused by focusing anode into a tight beam and then accelerated by an accelerating anode (6). This tight high-speed beam of electrons flies through the vacuum in the tube and hits the flat screen at the other end of the tube (6). This screen is coated with phosphor, which glows when struck by the beam (6).

A phosphor is any material that, when exposed to radiation, emits visible light (6). The radiation might be ultraviolet light or a beam of electrons (6). Any fluorescent color is really a phosphor-fluorescent color absorb invisible ultraviolet light and emit visible light at a characteristic color (6). In a CRT, phosphor coats the inside of the screen (6). When the electron beam strikes the phosphor, it makes the screen glow. In a black-and-white screen there is one phosphor that glows white when struck (6). In a color screen there are three phosphors arranged as dots or stripes that emit red, green and blue light (6). There are also three electron beams to illuminate the three different colors together (6).

There are two different types of TVs on the market today, the analog, which most people have and the new digital (6). The main problem with analog is the resolution. The resolution of the TV controls the crispness and detail in the picture you see. The number of pixels on the screen determines the resolution (6). An analog TV set can display 525 horizontal lines of resolution every 30th of a second (6).  That has been fine for years. But now we have all become conditioned by computer monitors to be comfortable with much better resolution. The worst computer monitors you can buy have more resolution than the best analog TV set; and the best computer monitors are able to display up to 10 times more pixels than an analog TV (6).

Laws and Regulations

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was established by the Communications Act of 1934 as an independent U.S. Government agency directly responsible to Congress (3).  The FCC covers television, radio, cellular, satellite, and cable. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that the FCC be headed by five commissioners that are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate (3). One of these holds the Chair position and only three of the five commissioners are allowed at one time to be from the same political party (3). The current Chair is Michael K. Powell.

Television is under one of the ten bureaus within the commission.  This Bureau is called the Mass Media Bureau (MMB) and it has access to free radio and television services that are in the public interest (3). The main function of the MMB is to issue licenses to television stations.  The television stations are required to process a renewal application every eight years and consumer input is vital to this process. Television stations are required to broadcast this when their license is about to expire.  In this they have to announce the date the renewal must be filed and the date the formal petitions against them must be filed (3). The public can also provide input to the FCC when a station:

1) Files an application for consent to sell a station,
2) Undergoes a major stock transfer, or
3) Makes a major change in the stations technical facilities (3).
The public will know about these changes because the television stations are required to put announcements either in the local newspapers or the FCC publishes a public notice.  From this time, the public has thirty days to file a formal petition.

Overall, the FCC rules generally do not govern the selection of programming that is broadcast by the television stations because the first amendment and federal law prohibits the FCC from interfering with the freedom of expression in broadcasting (3). Exceptions to this are restrictions on indecent programming, limits on the number of commercials aired during children’s’ programming (Children’s Television Act 1990), and rules involving candidates for public office (Political Broadcasting Policy) (3). Stations are responsible for choosing their entertainment programming as well as their programs concerning local issues, new, public affairs, religion, sports events, and they also decide how their programs will be conducted (3).

The FCC does have policies on ownership.  The National Television Ownership rule says that one corporation can own 35% of the entire industry (part of the amendments of the Telecommunications Act of 1996)  (3).  The Dual Network rule says that two stations can work together provided they are not one of the major four corporations (3).  The Local Television Ownership rule says that one company cannot own more than one local station (3).

Ownership and Control

The identification of who owns and controls the media is a very important aspect in understanding and examining the media. Knowing and identifying ownership and control of the media helps us to understand and examine the media in a social context. In our group, we choose to examine Network television, particularly the National Broadcasting Company, known as NBC.

NBC is one of the three major network television companies in America and is the fifth largest corporation in the world (8). In 1996 NBC partnered with Microsoft Networks to create MSNBC. With this partnership NBC and Microsoft have joined to make the cable company called MSNBC. (8).  The name formally changed from NBC to MSNBC.  Both Microsoft Network and NBC are in collaboration with Newsweek Magazine and have, one of the most popular Internet news site.

NBC is owned by General Electric Company and is partnered with Microsoft Network (8).  General Electric, known as GE and Microsoft is owned by individual or shared stocks based out of the national stock market. (Croteau & Hoynes, 2000: 82) Many people hold stocks in either Microsoft or General Electric, even though the companies are partnered together, but some people own stocks in both companies. Ownership of stocks changes from time to time, due to the rise and fall of the national stock market and trading of stocks (8).  Since it is owned by individual or shared stocks, we cannot identify a lone owner, but one well known owner of the majority of Microsoft’s Network stocks is Bill Gates (8).

Some individuals may influence the power and say of a corporation more than others. This may happen based on who owns the stocks and how the stocks are dispersed among individuals. Owners of stocks and the foundation of the corporation control media network.  Depending on the foundation or the social structure of the company control can affect the way the company works. The person who decides how the corporation works, is the CEO, vice president, or a committee of that particular company Both Microsoft Network and NBC are controlled by a CEO, vice president of the company, or the committee. The CEO and president for Microsoft is Steven Ballmer and Bill Gates is the chairmen and chief software architect (8).  The CEO and chairman for General Electric is John Welch Jr. Ph.D. (8).  Through network television, the government controls how the major corporation owns a percentage or certain section of network media as a whole (Croteau & Hoynes, 2000: 94-96).  The government controls network television in two ways: 1) through the 1996 Telecommunication Act, and 2) how the companies lobby government officials through support of money. (Croteau & Hoynes, 2000: 50-54)

One thing to note about the ownership of Microsoft network is that under the 1996 Telecommunication Act, it restricts networks to ownership of 35% to the media (Croteau & Hoynes, 2000: 96).  With Microsoft Network it has created a monopoly with Internet explorer to get on to the Internet. Microsoft Network is the only company with control of the Internet access. The government has a lawsuit against the monopoly of Microsoft Network concerning the Internet Explorer.


According to the Nielsen Ratings, the average American household has the television on 7.12 hours a day (5).  During those 7.12 hours, the viewers are exposed to many, many commercials that generate revenue for the networks airing them. The network, NBC, which had the sole broadcast rights to the 2000 Summer Olympics experienced a loss of viewership during those games, and initially thought that they would end up losing close to $100 million, but due to the price of advertising, the network still made money on the deal (2).   The 2001 Superbowl had an estimated 130 million viewers and at any given time during the game, approximately 40.5% of the nation was tuned in (11).  Thirty second ad slots sold for an average of 2.3 million dollars at this year’s game (4).

Many television networks have partnered with other leaders in the media industry, and NBC is no exception, pairing with CNBC (a news network), and MSNBC a cable network, along with, which has been rated the “most popular Internet news site” (5).  Newsweek also has connections to the corporate partners.  The main corporate parent is General Electric (9), and GE was the 5th largest corporation according to its revenue with $100,469,000,000 for the year of 1999 (Kerbo, 2000: 190).

Also, the Time Warner media conglomeration was recently acquired by America Online to create the world’s largest media company (1), and there is also talk of a possible buy out of NBC, which is valued today at 35 billion dollars (9).

Croteau and Hoynes point out that these media conglomerations create new ways for products to be promoted and advertised and also for certain sponsored celebrities to be mentioned more frequently (p.47).  It seems as though self-promotion and pleasing the parent company may have become more of an economic advantage than reporting the news itself, this being called the “Hollywoodization” of the news (Croteau and Hoynes, 2000: 48).
As can be seen, television has changed and developed beyond what many people thought was possible.  It is sure to be an influential element of American society for years to come.



Croteau, David & Hoynes, William. 2000. Media Society. Thousand Oaks, California.  Pine Forge Press.

Kerbo, Harold. 2000. Social Stratification and Inequality. San Francisco, California.
McGraw Hill.