Academic journal article Development and Society

An Analysis on the Factors Affecting the Development of the Cable Television Industry in the United States, 1969-2010 *

Academic journal article Development and Society

An Analysis on the Factors Affecting the Development of the Cable Television Industry in the United States, 1969-2010 *

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formula omitted.)


Only a few decades ago, the United States only had three or four television channels available - all of them being broadcast. At the time, it might have been difficult to imagine that hundreds of commercial cable networks would be available and compete with broadcast television networks to attract viewers. In contrast, those who subscribe to cable television today may take numerous channel options for granted. Some people, especially those who have lived in cable subscribing households all their lives, may have trouble distinguishing between broadcast television and cable television. Technically, broadcast television is provided by the public airwaves that are radiated into space from station transmitters to receiving antennas whereas cable television is provided by a cable operator via underground cable. However, the difference is not confined by technological aspect. They also defer in terms of business models and revenue streams, as well as regulations that apply to them.

How, then, did cable television emerge, and how has it developed to its current state? Some media scholars argue that most media technologies come on the scene to improve the functions that are already served by existing media (Mullen 2003). Cable television started as a response to the physical limitations of broadcast television signals. Because broadcast signals are not only limited in their ability to travel long distances from their origination site but also are susceptible to interference from such things as severe weather and mountainous terrain, cable television was created so that people in areas where broadcast signals hardly reached could enjoy watching television retransmission (Crandall and Furchtgott-Roth 1996; Mullen 2008). It worked in a way that a tall antenna, known as a community antenna, was installed in areas with good reception, such as a hilltop, picked up broadcast signals and then retransmitted them through a coaxial cable to those households that could not receive clear signals. Indeed, the primary function of cable television service had been a retransmission of the signals of broadcasting station until the 1970s (Parsons and Frieden 1998). However, cable television has since evolved into a major player in an increasingly dynamic media industry.

Cable television in the United States has developed within a frequently changing policy environment. In the early years of cable television, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a regulatory agency charged with regulating communications, refused to regulate the industry because it thought the cable television was a stopgap technology that would eventually disappear as more broadcast television stations established; in its view, cable television would not pose any threat to the broadcast television industry. After the late 1960s, however, FCC regulations appeared that were meant to protect the interests of broadcast television as the cable television system began to spread. Later regulations then grew more conducive to the companies engaged in cable television-particularly with the deregulation of recent decades. In the face of such changes, the U.S. cable industry experienced dramatic growth.

While much social science research has addressed various cultural industries, there is a surprising dearth of research addressing cable television industry. This dearth is unfortunate given the complexities of that cultural industry: it started as a stopgap mechanism for relaying the programming of broadcast TV networks, however it has evolved to provide its own original programming via emergent cable networks like HBO, CNN and ESPN that would take away the audiences that once hegemonic broadcast networks had enjoyed. The dearth of scholarship is also likely due to the difficulties of gathering sufficient data by which to make sense of the dramatic change that unfolded over a few decades. This study fills a notable gap in the literature by taking the cable television industry as a focal industry. …

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