Different methods of home entertainment have evolved and changed history in the process. From the radio all the way to Netflix, families and home life have changed because of it. Here’s what the history of home entertainment has given families and how it has shaped the concept of home entertainment as we know it today.
The Beginning of Home Entertainment: the Radio
The radio was the very beginning of home entertainment. This invention created a way for families to be entertained without ever having to leave the house.
It’s a little fuzzy as to who exactly invented the radio as no one quite knows for certain who put together the first radio device.
We do know that Nikolai Tesla demonstrated a wireless radio in St. Louis in 1893. Then about 8 years later, Guglielmo Marconi went down in history as he became the first person to transmit radio waves across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901. He is often considered the father of radio.
The radio continued to gain popularity with the onset of the first World War.
WWI boosted the radio’s popularity, particularly within the military once they realized how invaluable wireless communication could be to saving lives and reducing risk to physical messengers.
It wasn’t until the close of the war that radios entered the home.
As WWII started, the radio became a primary source of delivering news to the public; further, it kept families informed and thanks to US propaganda, it was also used as a means to gain support and promote patriotism.
It wasn’t uncommon for the radio to remain on for hours at a time as it brought news of the war to speculating families back in the United States.
Rather than depend on just the newspaper, home life began to revolve around the radio as a means to keep updated on the war’s status.
The Golden Age of Radio
Between the 1920’s and ‘40s, radio became a commercial phenomenon.
Radios went from only playing the news and music, to full-blown entertainment with serial programs.
Everything from radio plays, soap operas, quiz shows and talent shows to mystery serials were played alongside the news and music.
Families tuned in each week to hear the latest part of their favorite programs. Listeners loved Bing Crosby, Amos n’ Andy, and Master of Mystery.
Radio entertainment changed after WWII. Radio plays and stories were slowly being displaced by a surge of new music; and although listeners still got to enjoy some of their favorites, an increase in the variety of music played--not to mention the younger demographics some of that music played to--radio became synonymous with music.
As the likes of Elvis Presley and the Beatles took to the airwaves, the young flocked together to hear their favorite songs wherever they could tune in with a radio.
This also gave rise to new kinds of music that had never been heard before like rock n’ roll.
The Age of the Television
A man named Philo Taylor Farnsworth invented the electric television in 1927.
He was only 21 years old!
A simple line was the very first thing that was ever transmitted onto a television. There were continued advancements on the television and in 1938, electronic television sets were sold commercially among Americans.
Considering how they could bring music and radio dramas to life with actors and visuals, it’s no surprise the TV soon replaced the radio in many homes as the focal point of home entertainment.
Because of TV’s instant popularity, TV stations began to pop up everywhere.
More and more news from across the world was able to be broadcasted to keep everyone informed. Televisions could broadcast news on presidential candidates, putting them in front of a curious and excited audience.
It was on the TV where some of America’s most beloved cultural moments were broadcast, including Neil Armstrong walking on the moon in 1969, and the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964.
The many TV stations created different channels that people could look through to find something that entertained them. Slowly, emphasis on new broadcasting dwindled, and TV became the go-to for home entertainment.
TV entertainment really started to boom in the 1950s.
Shows like I Love Lucy, The Bob Hope Show, and Gunsmoke became family favorites. Families would watch every week to be entertained.
TV gave audiences everywhere the opportunity to lean on the cinematography and visuals of sitcoms and other TV shows that aired, using their eyes in place of their imaginations as was the case for the era of old-time radio.
More and more channels started to appear. ESPN became the first dedicated sports channel. Stations like ABC, NBC, and CBS grew to be household names as they formed unique lineups of what would now be considered classic entertainment in television.
The news platform for television also grew, despite the emphasis shifting towards entertainment. Channels like CNN arose to offer news 24 hours a day. In 1963, televisions surpassed newspapers as the main source for news in America.
In fact, 36% of people said that TV was a more reliable news source than newspapers! (1)
The popularity of television grew so quickly that by 1993, 98% of Americans owned at least one TV set, with 64% owning two or more sets.(2)
Today, an estimated 119.9 million American homes have at least one television. (3)
The Influence of Cable TV
When cable TV was first invented, it wasn’t the cable we know (and loathe) today.
Cable TV didn’t exactly mean someone got 600 plus channels.
Cable TV got its name from a literal cable.
Before cable TV was created, shows would have to be filmed, typically in New York, then sent over telephone wires to Chicago. Then a tape would be made in Chicago of the show and sent to the West Coast for people to watch. The taped show would air four to seven days after it aired in New York.
Enter cable TV.
The first transcontinental coaxial cable was laid in 1951. This new cable allowed for shows to be broadcasted live from either side of the country. Now, people from all over the country could receive news and watch shows in real time as they were being broadcasted from their original location.
People from all across the country could watch I Love Lucy right when it aired on set in Hollywood.
The idea of a pay cable network wasn’t introduced until 1972. It was then that people had to pay for specific channels that wanted to view.
Around this same time, the Home Box Office, or HBO, was born.
Cable networks grew and grew until hundreds of channels could now be bought for your viewing pleasure.
Because the FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, doesn’t regulate cable channels, it meant that cable programs and stations could get away with more in their programming, including foul language and violence.
Now, families had access to exclusive movies and television shows specifically for entertainment.
They could watch movies that were brand new and just out of theaters, right in their own homes! Channels like HBO would even give them the unedited and uncut version of a film, adding to the value of the entertainment they offered.
This might surprise you:
HBO is the number 1 cable TV channel that subscribers are willing to pay the most for.(4)
Comcast video claimed the most subscribers for 2019 Q1 with 21.87 subscribers.(5)
The Streaming Effect
Today, streaming movies and TV shows are the most widely used option for entertainment. Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are booming.
Because streaming services offer a huge variety of entertainment, can be easily accessed anywhere--from a number of devices--, and it’s cheaper per month.
It’s pretty simple.
In fact, more and more people are canceling their cable TV subscriptions and opting in for cheaper streaming services since they’re cheaper, and because some services will let you add on additional packages of channels. That way you’re not paying for hundreds of channels you’ll probably never turn on!
Families can now watch pretty much anything just by clicking on it. They have immediate access to new shows, old shows, and everything in between with just the click of a button.
Instead of surfing channels to find something to watch, families can agree on a movie and simply search for it and start watching.
Here’s the kicker:
This year a milestone was actually hit.
According to new data, there are more people paying for a streaming service than there are paying for cable TV.
69% of consumers pay for a streaming service while 65% are paying for cable.(6)
This is pretty shocking considering that only 10% of consumers paid for a streaming service in 2009.
What does this mean for home entertainment?
It’s all about accessibility and ease of use.
Streaming services offers both for a far lower price point than cable or even satellite currently does.
While there are still some holdouts using cable and streaming services, it’s definitely been leaning towards the later since the rise of services like Netflix and devices such as AppleTV.
Here’s the catch:
There could be something else out there.
We have no idea what the future of home entertainment holds. In the golden age of radio, no one thought that the TV would overtake it. They didn’t even know what a TV was. No one thought that the age of channel surfing was coming to an end as streaming services took off.
It was the same for Blockbuster and Netflix.
People didn’t know until it was already here, displacing the previous mode of entertainment.