In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Television

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Technology Present and Future
  • Business
  • Networks
  • Public/Educational Television
  • Policy and Regulation
  • Studying Television
  • International Television
  • European Television

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Communication Television
Christopher H. Sterling
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 June 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0108


Television began with experimentation a century ago in many countries, though chiefly Britain and the United States. During the 1930s those experimental systems improved dramatically, enabling the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to begin the world’s first scheduled television service in 1936—the United States followed with an improved system five years later. World War II froze television in place with almost no broadcast activity for its duration. After 1945, broadcast television expanded to become the most important news and entertainment medium around the world. Starting about 1970, a variety of alternate ways to distribute television (cable, satellite, and digital) have further extended its reach. TV service is, in fact, ubiquitous save in a very few isolated areas (e.g., North Korea). As defined here, “television” generally means broadcast or satellite/cable-delivered video signals, though thanks to the post-1990 creation of countless home and mobile viewing devices, the viewing audience has splintered. “Networks” include the traditional broadcast ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—and hundreds of newer (since 1980) cable networks as well. Several factors underlie the citations in this bibliography. First and foremost, the English-language literature on most aspects of television is both huge and constantly growing. Thousands of books have been published, many devoted to a single program or star. The choices included here are the best and most recent examples (but a small portion) of the whole. Second, TV’s literature falls into two broad categories: Popular writing for a general audience, and serious titles by and for researchers. This essay emphasizes the latter. Third, books on television are often lumped with those on film, usually devoting more space to cinema than video. This listing avoids most such sources. And, increasingly, writing about television is becoming more specialized. The emphasis here is on recent work, with a relatively small number of important older titles noted as well. Save where noted, most of the citations concern American television.


There are hundreds of television networks (most delivered by satellite transmission) and thousands of local stations and cable systems in the United States. Industries that serve some or all of these are almost numberless. Thus, tens of thousands of people work in the “television industry” which used to be limited to broadcasting, but is now far larger and more diversified, thanks to technical change and growing digitalization. Books attempting to broadly describe the modern television business including its content and impact are few in number—the subject seems far too large and varied for a one-volume approach. Still, the few noted here provide useful “first stop” sources for basic information. Curtin and Shattuc 2009, Lotz 2014, and Mittell 2009 are all useful starting points for concise overviews of a fast-changing scene. Though much older, Brown 1982 remains useful for background and some analysis. Newcomb 2004 is an encyclopedia that offers hundreds of often quite thorough essays, chiefly on people and programs.

  • Brown, Les. 1982. Les Brown’s encyclopedia of television. New York: Zoetrope.

    Updated and retitled from its original 1977 appearance, this old title remains a useful resource for early TV people, companies, and organizations and issues. Brown was a longtime reporter on the television industry for the New York Times, and his deep insight is reflected on every page.

  • Curtin, Michael, and Jane Shattuc. 2009. The American television industry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Surveys key players, audiences and advertising, programming, broadcast and cable networks, and changing industry economics.

  • Lotz, Amanda D. 2014. The television will be revolutionized. 2d ed. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    Explores television in the 21st century to demonstrate how the industry is moving beyond broadcast and cable transmission and the impact of such a transition.

  • Mittell, Jason. 2009. Television and American culture. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Broad survey including a brief history, how the industry operates, program trends and their impact, and changing technological options.

  • Newcomb, Horace, ed. 2004. Encyclopedia of television. 2d ed. 4 vols. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn.

    This cornucopia of (largely American) television provides hundreds of often lengthy entries on people and programs with some mention of institutional and policy issues. Some two hundred entries are new to this edition and many more were updated. Most offer sources of further reading.

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