In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Industrial, Educational, and Instructional Television and Video

  • Introduction
  • Nontheatrical Film Precedents and Context
  • Useful Television Theory
  • Archives
  • Trade Journals and Publishers

Cinema and Media Studies Industrial, Educational, and Instructional Television and Video
Kit Hughes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0327


For as long as television has been a darling of the commercial entertainment industries, it has been an object of interest for educators and businesses. The same can’t be said for media studies, which has long focused on the former mode—the domestic medium and the popular art—at the expense of the latter. This article corrals sources written in the 2010s from within the field, as well as research from scholars in education, sociology, management, and training. It begins with analyses of nontheatrical film used to train workers, educate students, promote capitalism, complete work processes, and other applications that television would take up beginning in the 1940s. It then addresses resources that would be equally helpful to scholars of educational and industrial television: useful television theory, archives, and trade publications. The remainder divides industrial and educational television into their own sections to allow for a more granular look at the key debates and practices articulated to each. Industrial television (ITV) comprises a wide range of uses. In the postwar era, goods producers used closed-circuit television (CCTV) to extend workers’ oversight of expanding manufacturing operations. Around the same time, larger corporations began experimenting with theater television for shareholder meetings and special training events. Videotape (1956) made television financially accessible for more companies that used the open-reel format for taped self-observation. The watershed moment for ITV was the introduction of the videocassette (the U-matic became available in 1971), which dramatically expanded both users and uses of the medium and supported an ITV-programming publishing industry. Eventually ITV—in the form of business satellite television (BTV, mid-1980s–1990s)—would provide national and international employers the capability to beam morale-boosting and informational messages to its employees in a period of globalization and worsening working conditions. Educators took advantage of many of these same televisual affordances, although to different ends. Resources here focus on educators’ experiments with novel modes of audiovisual pedagogy, as well as their attempts to bend CCTV, videotape, and broadcast to fulfill instructional needs and address crises in American public education, from teacher shortages to racialized inequalities. One of the major narrative arcs of educational television (ETV) is the battle for dedicated broadcast frequencies and the founding of American public broadcasting. Not only did these victories establish a foothold for educators within broadcasting (who continued to use the medium for direct instruction, though these applications were overwhelmed in the turn to broad cultural-uplift programming and funding shortages), they provoked debates over the capacity of commercial television to inform and educate. While PBS is well covered elsewhere, included here are sources that illustrate the contours of discussions that sought to define the meaning of “educational” television.

Nontheatrical Film Precedents and Context

Research in nontheatrical film and useful cinema provides vital context for understanding the use of television by institutions and for drawing continuities across major political, cultural, economic, and educational projects that span the 20th century. Orgeron, et al. 2012 is an invaluable introduction to electronic classroom media and the major figures and concerns that animated educational cinema. While Alexander 2010 provides additional detail regarding major educational-film-production companies, Masson 2012 offers a critical analysis of the films themselves, focusing on rhetorical strategies used by programs distributed to Dutch classrooms. Although the interest of Bird 1999 is not classroom cinema, but sponsored media for commercial outlets (e.g., Cavalcade of America), it couches its focus on corporate speech in the context of popular pedagogy. While researchers of industrial television will find the preceding works instructive for their focus on institutional deployment of new and existing media, another set of books and essays focuses more squarely on film use by the training, management, and public-relations arms of companies. Two anthologies, Hediger and Vonderau 2009 and Acland and Wasson 2011, offer rich and diverse case studies of industrial film, as well as introductory essays that provide valuable theoretical orientation to the topic. Grieveson 2018 is essential reading for understanding the long-standing articulation between (ostensibly) noncommercial cinema and businesses’ (and their supporters’) economic ambitions. Focusing more squarely on public relations and advertising, Marchand 2001 and Florin, et al. 2016 provide a useful anchor for thinking about the diversity of media strategies employed by industry. Like Slide 1992, several of the preceding books feature sections that treat the rise of television and video in the context of the fracturing of film’s dominance as an institutional form.

  • Acland, Charles R., and Haidee Wasson, eds. Useful Cinema. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011.

    This anthology provides vital theoretical and historical heft to the call to attend to institutional uses of media as part of a full accounting of everyday media culture. Featuring wide-ranging and thoroughly researched entries spanning education, government, workplaces, and civic and cultural organizations, the book offers useful frameworks for understanding television’s rise within education and industry.

  • Alexander, Geoff. Academic Films for the Classroom: A History. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

    Useful primarily as a reference work, this book features profiles of the major companies and personnel engaged in educational filmmaking, as well as discussions of the historical context in which they worked, prior to the ascendancy of video. The volume also briefly addresses program series and documentaries produced by US television networks and distributed to American classrooms.

  • Bird, William L., Jr. “Better Living”: Advertising, Media, and the New Vocabulary of Business Leadership, 1935–1955. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999.

    Looking at sponsored radio, television, and film, Bird’s book is interesting for its treatment of differing modes of corporate pedagogy. Even if the wholesale aesthetic and narrative transition that Bird stakes out—from inelegant didactic address to Hollywood-style entertainment—may be overstated, the book provides a useful analysis of corporate attempts to collaborate with advertising firms, lobbying organizations, and the broadcast networks to secure airtime for pro-corporate (and anti–New Deal) views on commercial media outlets.

  • Florin, Bo, Nico de Klerk, and Patrick Vonderau, eds. Films That Sell: Moving Pictures and Advertising. London: Palgrave, 2016.

    Despite its title, this anthology’s contributions analyze expansive media forms, from print and magic lantern slides to sponsored film and television commercials. Via case studies and discussions of methodology, chapters analyze the industries and organization of moving-image advertising, as well as developments in private industry’s interest in and understanding of how to manage audience consciousness and behavior. Later chapters feature several critical overviews of relevant archival collections and preservation challenges.

  • Grieveson, Lee. Cinema and the Wealth of Nations: Media, Capital, and the Liberal World System. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018.

    This ambitious and deeply researched book explores how media in the interwar period was constitutive of a liberal political economy and globalized world order predicated on consumerism, inequality, and resource extraction. Well situated as a genealogy of today’s neoliberal world order (and, we might add, industrial television [ITV] and educational television [ETV]), robust chapters explore the myriad ways that film (and radio) were used by governments, corporations, and lobbying groups (often in collaboration) to manage populations and establish new economic orthodoxies.

  • Hediger, Vinzenz, and Patrick Vonderau. Films That Work: Industrial Film and the Productivity of Media. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789089640130

    International in scope, with particular emphasis on Europe and the United States, this anthology features essays that span visualities of organizational culture and governance, case studies of film use, and film’s role in industrial and urban development. Of particular use for scholars of industrial television are two early chapters that provide compelling methodologies of research for industrial media: Thomas Elsaesser’s “Archives and Archaeologies” and Hediger and Vonderau’s “Record, Rhetoric, Rationalization.”

  • Marchand, Roland. Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

    Analyzing institutional (print) advertising and corporate welfare campaigns (c. 1895–1945), Marchand traces the development of the “corporate soul,” companies’ assertion of care and benevolence used to win public support for increasingly large-scale business ambitions and weather the Depression. Although Marchand is primarily interested in public-facing campaigns, his analysis of corporate public relations’ visual strategies is useful for considering later industrial film and television programs targeting worker morale in the midst of deteriorating working conditions.

  • Masson, Eef. Watch and Learn: Rhetorical Devices in Classroom Films after 1940. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2012.

    Based on an analysis of films (released 1941–1963) once distributed by the Netherlands Foundation for Educational Film, Masson’s rigorously argued book offers (and then revises) new taxonomies and methods for understanding techniques of visual pedagogy (both textual and in relation to exhibition context). Although narrowly focused on his case study, brief invocations of television as a comparative case can be found in the introduction, footnotes, and brief asides.

  • Orgeron, Devin, Marsha Orgeron, and Dan Streible. “A History of Learning with the Lights Off.” In Learning with the Lights Off: Educational Film in the United States. Edited by Devin Orgeron, Marsha Orgeron, and Dan Streible, 15–67. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Spanning the origins of cinema to the emergence of educational television, this extensively researched essay offers an essential prehistory for ETV. In addition to identifying major figures, producers, distributors, users, exhibition practices, trends, and promotional discourses, the chapter provides the researcher lists of key periodicals and tips for locating educational film and video titles. The anthology’s remaining chapters offer useful contextualization for considering educational video and the mediated classroom.

  • Slide, Anthony. Before Video: A History of the Non-Theatrical Film. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.

    Built from extensive trade journal research as well as archival collections, Slide’s chronicle offers an early historical overview of nontheatrical film as a multi-sited industry, technology, and practice. The book’s usefulness for television scholars lies in the introduction and chapter 9, “The Waning Years,” which couch this history within the transition to video and outline the consequences of the shift to tape for major nontheatrical film agents and institutions.

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