Why is Cable TV Important?

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, we somehow managed to survive with three broadcast television networks. Most small markets didn’t have a local outlet for ABC, NBC and CBS. Usually, a city had one or two local network affiliates and a couple local stations that ran syndicated shows and concentrated on local news, weather and sports. Back then, most homes had large TV antennas to pull in the signals from nearby cities. Folks who didn’t have an antenna were only able to watch the local channels, and the signal would vary based on weather and other types of interference. If you were lucky enough to live in a large metropolitan area, you enjoyed having a local affiliate for each of the major broadcasting networks.

Most local stations had a small news team that broadcast the morning, noon, evening and late night news. They covered the nearest major league sports teams, local colleges and high schools. They also broadcast religious programs on Sunday mornings. Television networks usually began their broadcasting day at 5:00 a.m. and ended it at 1:00 a.m. During the times that the stations were off the air, they ran test patterns, which were not very effective for helping insomniacs.

Because people in big cities had greater exposure to current news, they were more informed about national and local issues, including politics. Local stations tried to align with national networks so that they could provide their small markets with the same quality, up-to-date news that residents of big cities received.

Cable TV Improvements

In the 1970s, cable television began changing the landscape of broadcast television. The first selling point for the new technology was that the signal was perfectly clear. In the 50’s and 60’s, everyone expected a certain amount of “snowfall” when the weather was bad or when trying to pull in a far-away station. The second selling point was that many stations were commercial-free because they were still having trouble selling ads on cable TV. Obviously, that has changed considerably. Only the premium pay networks are commercial-free, but they run tons of ads for their own programming instead.

Cable Television Firsts

Here are a few features that cable TV brought to the world of television.

• CNN, the first round-the-clock news channel

• ESPN, the first round-the-clock sports channel

• Live broadcast of Senate and House of Representatives proceedings

• Live broadcast of high-profile hearings

• Local cable-access channels

• New dedicated networks for many niche groups, such as food, history, weather and travel networks

• Networks specifically directed toward children, such as Nickelodeon

• The option to choose between small and large programming packages

Cable TV has had a ripple effect on society. During the Internet boom of the 90’s, cable TV was among the first providers to offer broadband service to residential consumers. Broadband Internet access brought about such services as direct downloading of movies on-demand from websites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. Cable TV also was responsible for a rush to bundle cable TV, Internet access and telephone service. Now, “bundling” is offered by satellite TV providers and telephone companies.

Cable TV has also given people in every corner of the United States access to the same news and political diatribe. The viewer can choose between liberal or conservative news feeds. Fans of any sports team can subscribe to sports channels so that they can follow any team, anywhere. Pay-per-view events are easy to order and more abundant than ever. Adult channels are ever-present on cable TV.

Cable TV can also alert people to emergency events, such as an approaching hurricane or tornado. It can spread the word about places where help is needed to overcome a recent tragedy. Breaking news events are broadcast across the world in the same moment. Election results are revealed instantaneously.

Sports teams have their own networks. That gives them more money to build bigger stadiums and hire better athletes. In fact, they can sell the naming rights to a stadium for more money than the entire cost of the payroll of a 1950s baseball team. Cable TV has given the big four professional sports—football, baseball, basketball and hockey—more exposure, which translates to more income for the leagues, teams and players.

Cable TV improved the television viewing experience immediately, but it has also had numerous benefits that were not foreseen when it was first introduced. Now, it is an integral part of the modern high-tech world.