TV Over the Years: How Things Have Changed

November 21st is World Television Day. As such, it seems appropriate to take a journey through the evolution of television over the years, both physically, and in the ways we watch. 

The word television originates from the ancient greek word “tele” (meaning far) and the Latin word “visio” (meaning sight). Quite literally, it means seeing from far away, or in this case, through a screen. The first electronic TV was created in 1927 by 21-year-old Philo Taylor Farnsworth. Fast forward to 2019: 120.6 million households in the United States, or 96% of American homes, have at least one TV. That’s nearly triple the number of American homes with TVs just 50 years ago. 

Since its conception nearly 100 years ago, TV has undergone some massive transformations, from the kinds of technology used to the way we consume our favorite shows and movies. Let’s take a look at some of the changes TV has undergone.

History of the Television

“The Tube”

The first electronic TVs gave us their first nickname, “the tube,” because of their use of Cathode Ray Tube technology. These TVs were composed of thousands of red, green, and blue dots to create the picture on the screen. This technology was the norm until the 1990s, when flat-screen TVs began hitting the scene. 

Flat Screens

The first flat screens used one of two kinds of technology — Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) or plasma. However, plasma wasn’t nearly as energy efficient as LCD screens and this technology quickly fell into disuse. Soon after, LCD TVs were also out-ranked by Light Emitting Diode (LED) TVs, which have become popular over the last several years.

LED TVs use tiny LED lights as a backlight, rather than the cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) used by the previous iterations of the TV. Quickly following the rollout of LED TVs, came SmartTVs with built in WiFi capabilities and the streaming apps and services that have revolutionized how we consume TV today. 

Streaming Apps and Services

Although the TV itself has experienced several transformations, so too has the way we watch it. Gone are the days of limited choices or needing to watch your favorite shows live or risk missing out until a rerun aired. We no longer need to rely on a VCR to record a show or event you couldn’t watch right away. We now live in the age of streaming devices and TV accessible from anywhere, at any time. 

With DVR and streaming apps, missing an episode is no big deal: you can just watch it tomorrow (or the next day, or the next year). But, not only do these apps allow you to watch regularly scheduled shows on your favorite broadcast and cable networks, they also provide constant original content for subscribers that are accessible on our mobile devices anywhere we are, from the treadmill at the gym, to a park on our lunch break.

In fact, in 2018, 495 original series dropped for scripted TV alone, which doesn’t include reality TV, documentaries, talk shows, game shows, and so on. What’s more, streaming platforms, like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, delivered most of those series. 

These apps have given way to a “binge model” for TV. We no longer want to wait a week between episodes; we want to watch an entire season (or an entire series) in just a matter of days. The use of streaming apps has made this possible, as full seasons or TV shows are released at one time, with no commercial breaks or wait time between episodes. 


In nearly 100 years, TV has evolved a great deal. Where will it go in the next 100 years? Who knows, maybe our grandchildren will we watching TV on the moon.

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