Did you watch the last football World Cup final on television? If you did, you were one of 1.5 billion people who saw the match. That means you were part of a viewing audience of around a quarter of the world’s entire population. That is just one example of how powerful television is and how it can connect so many people around the world. Television is part of our everyday lives these days, but it has been around for less than 80 years.


Television, or TV, is a way of sending moving pictures and sound over long distances. Usually, when we think of television we mean broadcast TV. Broadcasting means sending the same thing to lots of people at the same time. TV companies broadcast shows to large audiences who receive them on their TV sets. Television has other uses too, such as keeping watch on places like shops and city centres. This is called closed-circuit television or CCTV for short.


TV signals can travel along cables or through the air using radio waves. Most people receive TV broadcasts through an aerial that picks up radio waves sent from a TV transmitter on the ground. Some people receive their TV broadcasts using a dish that picks up radio waves sent from a satellite. The satellite travels through space above the Earth and can send TV signals to a much larger area than a transmitter on the ground. Others receive TV broadcasts through cables laid underneath the streets. This is called cable TV.


Television was not invented by just one person. Many people from a number of countries worked on different parts of the problem over a long time. As early as 1884 Paul Nipkow, a German engineer, produced a type of mechanical TV. The Scottish engineer John Logie Baird used Nipkow’s ideas in his own system. In Britain in 1926, Baird gave the first public demonstration of a working TV system. The BBC used Baird’s system for a while, but inventors soon developed better systems that produced higher quality pictures. These systems brought together the ideas of scientists and engineers from many countries, including the United States, Soviet Union, and Britain.


In 1936 in Britain the BBC started the first regular TV service that used the higher quality pictures. In those days a TV set cost about the same as a small car, so not many people had one. Even if you could afford one, you had to live within 35 miles of a transmitter to receive broadcasts. There was only one transmitter—at Alexandra Palace in north London.


By the late 1930s, broadcasts were being transmitted in several European countries and the United States. TV was just about to catch on when World War II broke out. The war meant that work on TV development came to an end and the broadcasts stopped completely in Britain.


Television broadcasts started again in Britain almost straight after the war, but by 1947 there was still only one transmitter and only 15,000 homes with a TV set. Two years later, a second transmitter was built in Birmingham. Colour TVs were invented in the 1940s, but they did not start to take over from black and white sets until the late 1960s.


To start with, most countries had only one TV channel. British viewers had to wait until 1955 before they were offered a choice of programmes, and these were only available in London at first. These days, if you have satellite or cable TV, you can watch programmes on hundreds of channels.

Did you know?
• The first FA Cup final to be televised live in its entirety was the 1938 match between Preston North End and Huddersfield Town. The first to be televised in colour was the final between West Bromwich Albion and Everton in 1968.
• In July 1969, 600 million people watched the first TV pictures from the moon.
• The first TV remote control, sold in the 1950s, was called the ‘Lazy Bones’.
• Telstar was the first satellite to send TV pictures in 1962. TV companies used it to send live pictures between countries. The first satellites to beam TV directly to people’s homes did not arrive until the 1980s.
• The word ‘television’ is truly international. It was originally a French word that is a mixture of Greek and Latin parts and was dreamt up by a Russian in 1900.