|Chapter 2 |
Related WebsitesMemoirs of Early History of Cable TVCATV CyberlabLarry Wild's TV TimelineHow Cable Works50 years of Cable TechnologyCommunication SatellitesRed Herring's History of Cable/TelcoHobbes' Internet TimelineInternet Society's Internet History LinksHistory of ARPANETMuseum of Early Video Editing EquipmentWorld Wide Web Consortium
Chapter 2 - History of Cable, Home Video and the Internet
Cable television began in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as viewers in mountainous and rural areas strove to be a part of the "TV craze." On the West Coast, Ed Parsons in Oregon rigged up a cable TV system to receive signals from Seattle. Back east, Bob Tarlton provided cable service in Pennsylvania and began to charge a monthly fee. At first, the FCC was reluctant to regulate the cable business, but under pressure from broadcast TV, a set of restrictive regulations was put in place that stymied the growth of cable for over 20 years.
Cables period of explosive growth began in the 1970s, spurred by the adoption of new FCC rules, the spread of satellites for program distribution, and the rise of innovative programming services. Two important program concepts, pay TV (led by Home Box Office) and the "superstation" (developed by Ted Turner), were developed at this time. By the 1980s, more new program services appeared, like CNN and MTV, making cable increasingly attractive to TV households. Cable boomed, as more than half of all TV homes decided to subscribe to the service. Today, cable TV reaches more than 6 in 10 TV households and delivers a range of services to consumers, including video, data, and even telephone service.
Cables growth created competition, including direct broadcast satellite and the consumer favorite: the videocassette recorder (VCR). The first wave of home satellite dishes were large, cumbersome, and expensive. Nevertheless, TVROs dotted the landscape in the 1980s, with over three million units sold. A new generation of smaller and more-affordable satellite dishes appeared in the 1990s and has taken the video industry by storm. More than 15 million homes have some form of DBS service, and that figure will grow as satellite services add more channels, including local broadcast stations. Other alternatives to cable, including MMDS, or "wireless cable," have been less successful.
The rise of the VCR has been spectacular. The home video business exploded on the scene in the 1980s, fueled by a landmark Supreme Court case legalizing home video recording, the arrival of affordable video recorders, and the rise of video rental shops. VCRs are in nearly 9 in 10 TV homes, and the video sales and rental business tops $16 billion in annual revenues.
The newest of the so-called new media is the Internet and its video/audio segment known as the World Wide Web (WWW). The Internet is a byproduct of the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States, arising from an initiative to link major universities and civil defense sites to avert (or survive) nuclear war. It arose from the creation of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1957, following the successful launch by Russia of its Sputnik satellite. Innovations from DARPA included SAGE, a computer system designed to detect incoming Soviet missiles, and ARPANET, a network of connected computers designed to spread data among various defense installations so that a single Soviet bomb couldn't destroy all of our vital missile data. The innovative SAGE computers used video screens, modems, and early versions of the computer mouse; with its ability for computers in different places to exchange data, ARPANET can be seen as the direct forerunner of the Internet.
By the 1970s, most users of ARPANET were not using the system to exchange missile guidance information. Instead, researchers and college professors were using the system to exchange electronic messages. The concept of e-mail was taking shape. Also during this period, computer scientists began to design programs to enable different kinds of computers to exchange data and to standardize the exchange, whether the message consisted of text, sounds, or pictures. By the end of the decade, USENET, a simplified bulletin board system, and TELNET, a means of dialing into large computers from remote locations, were growing in popularity.
Like VCRs, sales of personal computers skyrocketed in the 1980s. The Apple and IBM PC brought a new class of entrepreneurs, experimenters, and enthusiasts to the field of computing. Individual computer users in universities and businesses could now connect to one another to exchange data (and e-mail). In response to the growing demand, the National Science Foundation replaced the aging ARPANET infrastructure with a faster network that had much higher bandwidth. Hundreds, then thousands, of universities and schools soon logged on to the network. They were followed in the early 1990s by millions of home computer enthusiasts, using commercial gateways like Prodigy and America On-line (AOL). An additional innovation introduced at this time was the easy-to-use search program, which made finding data on the net both fast and easy.
The last piece of the puzzle was provided by Tim Berners-Lee, who coined the term World Wide Web. His innovative idea was to connect data on the web via Hyperlinks, packages of computer commands that computer users could execute with a simple click of the mouse. As a result, text, sounds, and pictures could be transmitted and received on the Internet virtually anywhere in the world, without the need for sophisticated or technical commands.
Today, the Internet is taking its place alongside radio, broadcast TV, and cable television as a means of sending and receiving media content. Time will tell if the new web replaces such "ancient" networks as CBS, NBC, and ABC.