Television in America

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Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History




Television is an ever-evolving and multi-dimensional medium, being at once a technology, an industry, an art form, and an institutional force. In the United States, it emerged as an idea whose time had come at the end of World War II. TV eventually grew and matured into the most influential social and cultural catalyst shaping and reflecting American civilization during the second half of the 20th century. Television revolutionized the way citizens and consumers in the United States learned about and communicated with the world; it also recast and re-envisioned the way they experience themselves and others. More than just escapist entertainment, TV reveals the dynamism and diversity of everyday life in the United States and the evolving nature of the nation’s core values. Television is moreover in a continual state of change and renewal. Its history has developed through a prehistory (before 1948) to a network era (1948–1975), a cable era (1976–1994), and finally the current digital era (1995–present). Today there are more than 650 networks in the U.S. marketplace whereby members of the typical domestic household receive 189 channels and watch more than eight hours of TV a day on average. TV in the 21st century also travels anywhere at any time, given its synergistic relationship with the Internet and a wide array of digital devices. It is now increasingly personalized, interactive, mobile, and on demand. Television is presently a convergent technology, a global industry, a viable art form, a public catalyst, and a complex and dynamic reflection of American society and culture.


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