The Development of Television into a Mass Medium from 1945 to 1960 and its Influence on Society

A Comparison between the United States and Germany

Term Paper 2010 13 Pages

American Studies - Culture and Applied Geography



1. Introduction

2. The development of television into a mass medium from 1945 to
2.1 United States
2.2 Germany

3. The social influence of television from 1945 until today
3.1 United States
3.1.1 Social changes caused by television from 1945 to
3.1.2 Resulting influence of television until today
3.2 Germany
3.2.1 Social changes caused by television from 1945 to
3.2.2 Resulting influences of television until today

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

In today’s society, a life without television is almost inconceivable. Since television means entertainment, the latest news, or even the favorite sitcom, it became an essential part of many people’s lives worldwide. The example of Germany, where the average time of television consumption was at 212 minutes per day in 2009 (Aktuelle Basisdaten), illustrates the important role television plays in our everyday life. However, the amount of time spent watching television is not only high in Germany, but in many other countries as well, such as other European countries or the United States. The latter rates among the countries with the highest number of television consumption worldwide, as it were about five hours per day in 2008 (Wölbert). Regarding these facts, the question arises how and especially why a medium such as television has such a worldwide success story to show?

Although the beginnings of television broadcast reach back to the 1920s, its real triumphal procession started after World War II. Quickly becoming the most popular medium in many countries, television soon exerted influence on the society and the lifestyle of many people. Depending on the postwar situation of every country, the pace of the spreading of television differed, as for example in the United States or Germany. Even though the development of television into a mass medium after 1945 proceeded much faster in the United States than in Germany, the influence of television on the prevailing societies was the same and completely changed them until today. To find out how it was possible that although the development of television was slower in Germany than in the United States, the influence on the two societies and the changes it involved were the same, I am firstly going to focus on the development of television into a mass medium in both countries from 1945 to 1960. After that, the social changes caused by television in the postwar years and its resulting influence on both societies until today are analyzed.

2. The development of television into a mass medium from 1945 to 1960

2.1 United States

Concerning the development of television into a mass medium after World War II, the United States count among the pioneers on this field (Abercrombie 74). Even though the invention of television and the first sale of television sets reached back several decades, the success story of television began after the Second World War (Boyer). In the time period between 1945 and 1960, television quickly became the most important mass medium in the United States (Medien) with the percentage of households owning a television increasing from 9.0 to 87.1 between 1950 and 1960, as the following chart shows:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(Television History)

Since many Americans were attracted to the idea of watching live entertainment in their homes, television became popular very quick (Medien). When in 1953 the broadcasting of color television in the United States began, fourteen years before this progress was reached in Germany (50 Jahre), the popularity of television increased even more (Boyer). The main reason for the boom of television during the postwar years was an increase of the “average white family income […] by 37.7 percent” in the course of the booming postwar economy (Baughman 214). Due to this financial rise, the numbers of home ownerships increased as well, including the purchase of household goods such as refrigerators or television sets (215). After the end of the Second World War, television replaced radio as the number one mass medium and became “a symbol of middle-class status and affluence in the home” (Taylor 20). Apart from its symbolic status, many Americans were convinced by television due to its comfort. Unlike the decades before, when people had to drive to movie theaters for watching a film, the owners of television sets could now stay at home and watch television with the whole family without paying any entrance fee (Boyer). Thanks to the National Television System Committee, who set the basis for television broadcasting across the country by having developed a 525-line broadcast already in 1941 (Television), the postwar television program could start without any serious problems. Based on these technical preconditions, the program in the United States quickly developed and therewith pushed people’s demands for television sets. As the early television program “appealed to a wide range of tastes” (Boyer), the popularity of television exploded in the postwar years, as seen on the chart above. Popular programs were talk shows or game shows and even local programs were broadcasted (Television), geared towards the demands of the population either living in cities or in the countryside. As a consequence, not only people in the cities bought television sets for their homes but also people living in the countryside, which further speeded up the development of television into a mass medium in the United States. To summarize, the development of television into the dominating mass medium proceeded very fast in the United States, due to the technical preconditions and the booming postwar economy. With this fast progress from 1945 to 1960, the United States is one of the pioneers on the field of early television broadcasting.

2.2 Germany

Similar to the United States, the emergence of television in Germany proceeded several decades before the Second World War. One of the initial major events of German television was the broadcasting of the 1936 Summer Olympics, which already put a spell on the German viewers back then (50 Jahre). However, the Allies put a stop to German television after 1945, since the National Socialists had taken advantage of television broadcasting for their propaganda during the war (50 Jahre). As a consequence, newspapers and radio were the only available mass media during the initial German postwar years. Due to these historical events and their results, the German television broadcasting proceeded much slower than in the United States, where transmission started right after the end of the war as already elaborated on before. In West Germany, it lasted until 1950 when the Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk started a test program broadcasting three times a week (50 Jahre). The real beginning of television in West Germany was on December 25, 1952, when the first regular two hour lasting program was initiated (50 Jahre). Since German television was initially only receivable in North Germany and Berlin, it remained a program for minorities during the 1950s (Als der Flimmerkasten). This technical restriction was one of the reasons for the relatively slow rise of the number of German television owners in comparison to the United States, as the following charts shows:



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development television mass medium influence society comparison united states germany



Title: The Development of Television into a Mass Medium from 1945 to 1960 and its Influence on Society