(From Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia)


Television, a medium of communication used primarily for transmitting audiovisual impressions of reality through space; it is the most effective means of mass communication known to humankind. After about 80 years of development, television made it possible for millions of people to share a single experience. For instance, about 600 million people saw astronauts first set foot on the moon in 1969, and about 750 million watched the wedding of Britain's Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981. Some 1 billion are thought to have watched the 2002 soccer World Cup.

Scientists in Britain, Germany, France, the former USSR, and the United States contributed to early experiments in television, but it was Britain, the United States, and Japan that solved the problems leading to a full television service. Britain started regular TV broadcasts in 1937. Japan pressed its research in the hope of telecasting the Olympic Games from Tokyo in 1940, but this hope was dashed by World War II. The United States began full-scale television immediately after the war and developed its television service more rapidly than any other country.

Other nations soon recognized that the new medium was a tremendous force for political persuasion, for education and enculturation, and for selling goods. By the start of the 21st century, 28 countries had more than 5 million TV-equipped households each, and 10 countries had more than 20 million each. In the United States, the statistical leader, over 100 million households possessed one or more television sets, averaging 2.2 units per home. The average American watched 3 hours and 45 minutes of television each day, or the equivalent of 9 years of viewing by the time the person reached 65 years of age. During that same 65-year period, the individual will have watched over 2 million TV commercials.