The 5 great TV innovations

Originally posted in March 2007 on my Yahoo! 360 Blog

How would you rank the 5 great TV innovations?

  • cable/satellite (c. 1948)
  • color (c. 1953)
  • remote control (c. 1956)
  • HD (c. 1996)
  • DVR (c. 1999)

This is my take…

  1. remote control: this is the most revolutionary of the innovations because of the scope of its impact. The most obvious, of course, is increased productivity (aka “channel surfing”) in TV watching. More importantly, though, is that channel surfing sowed the seeds for the mass desire for more programming — the fact that viewers could very easily switch channels meant that more shows/channels could exist and needed to exist to satiate our culture. Furthermore, the remote also revolutionized the way commercials were made: commercials became much more creative and fun in order to keep people from switching channels.
  2. color: TV is an abstraction of real life, both dramatically and physically. For entertainment purposes, the dramatic abstraction will always exist. On the physical side, however, the more abstraction you can remove, the better. There were originally three main layers of physical abstraction: loss of a spatial dimension*, loss of color, and loss of visual detail. The introduction of color brought us one-third of the way there. TV without color is quaint for a while — particularly in the context of appropriate content — but gets old really fast. You just gotta have color because life is in color. Also, without color, TV may not have overtaken cinema as our primary form of dramatic entertainment.
  3. cable/satellite: This one is important on two fronts: massively increased choice and the fulfillment of TV’s manifest destiny — people were no longer tied to transmission towers (and the inevitable fuzzy reception). Choice and clear reception anywhere…clearly pillars to be revered.
  4. DVR: Not much needs to be said here. TV on your own terms = awesome. However, without a lot of different stuff to watch, the DVR loses some of its luster.
  5. HD: It is with much reservation that I put HD last on the list. I love it so. As much as possible, I watch only HD programming. And it addresses one of the three levels of physical abstraction. But, when compared to the other four giants on this list, it just doesn’t hold up. Perhaps in time, we’ll all change our minds on this one.

* I think the next truly great TV innovation will address this loss of a spatial dimension. TV will eventually be like R2-D2’s 3-D projection of Princess Leia. I can’t wait.



Filed under Entertainment, TV

2 responses to “The 5 great TV innovations

  1. I like your list– but i’d move up DVR to # 3 at least and tempted for # 2, but don’t think so…it’s really changed my TV habits, but if i didn’t have a remote their would be no usage of DVR and I think my TV consumption would also be down without color so DVR wouldn’t be that useful then also.

    • pnguyen74

      Thanks for the comment, Apurva. When I first thought of this topic, I figured that DVR would be higher on the list, too. But I came to the conclusion that a DVR isn’t really necessary/useful if you have only ~10 channels to choose from.

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