Television and pay TV
Television is the most widely used mass media form in Australia and in the world. About 99 per cent of Australians own at least one television and, on average, they spent over 20 hours a week—or 36 per cent of their leisure time— watching television programs (Productivity Commission 2000, p 62). From the moment of television's introduction in Australia in 1956, TV ownership took off quickly, reaching 80 per cent by 1964 and 90 per cent by 1971. Moreover, Australians have been keen to acquire ancillary services, such as video cassette recorders (VCRs), with 87 per cent of Australian homes having at least one VCR by 1998 (AFC 1998, p 212). Such trends have been replicated globally, leading to the observation that television has been ‘overwhelmingly the most pervasive contemporary mass medium’ (Collins 1990, p 22). It was estimated that about 1.2 billion households had at least one television in 1996, which was over double the number in 1984 (Thussu 2000, p 132). By far the largest growth in TV ownership was in Asia, where the number of television households grew from 88 million in 1984 to 302 million in 1994 (Barker 1997, p 4); these figures undoubtedly understate the full extent of TV ownership and consumption, as TV ownership booms in countries such as China and India.
Television's power and influence can be assessed through a number of indicators. The sheer volume of time that TV viewing occupies in people's lives points to its importance, and it has increasingly displaced the newspaper as the principal source of news and information for the majority of the population. It has also become increasingly apparent that television has become central to contemporary political and other public processes, and that the management of television images has become fundamental to the political process. For social critics such as Robert Putnam and Neil Postman, this pervasiveness of television is seen as the major cause of declining investment in social capital, indicated by