Time magazine looks at the exciting new technology of television

I discovered just a few weeks ago that Time has its full archive going back to 1923 available for free. I could probably spend months exploring it all. One of the things that I find fascinating is technology like the computer and Internet and what people thought of them when they first came around. It’s especially interesting looking at technologies like television that have been around for many decades but were once revolutionary and exciting.

I found this1948 article in Time which looks at the brand new medium of television. Here are the first two paras of the article:

Clearly the Internet hypesters of the 90’s had nothing on their TV counterparts 50 years before. Though of course the bit about presidential candidates soon became reality.

Another fascinating bit looks at the first sports broadcasts. It must have taken years of trial and error to learn how to do them well.

It is pretty amazing when you think about how far television technology has come. When a broadcast of the annual Army-Navy football game utitlized the first ever instant replay, the announcer had to inform the audience that “Army has not just scored again.”

When radio was invented many people thought it would just be used for 1 to 1 connections - like a phone call, just without wires. It didn’t take them long to figure out that it could be used to send the same signal to many people.

Say, maybe we can do the same thing with the Internet!

Use the internet to talk to people from across the world? Brilliant!

So did this one:

Home shopping is one of the biggest industries in the country. HSN and QVC have seen to that.

Obviously TV shopping did come true but how big was it really as a proportion of the total retail industry? What percentage of groceries for example were ever purchased through TV shows? I doubt it ever reached 1%.

The interesting thing is that even in politics where TV has become absolutely central you still can’t run a campaign from a TV studio. The physical reality of a candidate speaking to a crowd remains essential to create compelling television. And the primary system makes it difficult to become a Presidential candidate without a huge amount of face-to face politics in states like NH and Iowa. The old ways can be surprisingly resilient sometimes even in the face a hugely successful technology like TV.

I’m more amused by the things that didn’t happen - TV certainly hasn’t replaced school (some might say it’s had a negative impact on kids overall), and movies are doing OK (but how much of that is due to the support of DVD sales).

But I think it’s pretty true (in the US) that TV plays a big part in who gets elected President…

Groceries, probably not, but fashions, electronics, and jewelry are big sellers on TV. And don’t forget the whole infomercial industry, which depends on massive numbers of phone orders. It is undeniably a multimillion dollar industry.

Fair enough and perhaps I am biased because I have never purchased anything from a TV shopping show or informercial. However I would suspect for most people TV isn’t central to their shopping experience and is something they could live without . Whereas for the average sports fan, his experience would be completely changed without tv (or some close substitute like live online video feeds).

So there is a difference between areas like sports or politics which have been completely transformed by tv and areas like shopping and education where it seems more of a niche medium.

I’ll grant your point. Buying from infomercials and TV shopping channels seems more impulse-driven than planned. People don’t always set out to watch shopping programming on TV. It’s usually when they’re channel-surfing during the late night or early morning hours and something catches the viewer’s eye. That’s when he says “I really could use that Dual Saw,” or “I could fix things around the house with that Mighty Putty.” But don’t discount the value to marketers of the impulse buy. According to the series “Pitchmen,” that Dual Saw brought in about $265 million to its inventor.

Reminds me of an ad I saw once in an old Scientific American (my undergrad department had the archives going back all the way to the beginning): It was an ad for a computer, back in the early 70s or so, at a time when a keyboard and monitor were considered popular but unessential accessories, sold separately. Anyway, they wanted to show off how small this new computer was (about the size of modern desktops), so they took a picture of it next to a mouse. A real, fuzzy little rodent.