Media and Entertainment

The media and entertainment industry is a vast field, with certain sectors tracing their history back hundreds or thousands of years, while others, such as the Internet, have emerged only in the last several decades.


The earliest known books were the clay tablets of Mesopotamia and the papyrus rolls of Egypt. Examples of both date from about 3000 b.c. Early publications consisted of government records and details of business contracts and transactions, but eventually publications focusing on history, poetry, fiction, news, and other topics began to emerge. Paper was invented in China in 105 a.d. Block printing began in China in the sixth century a.d. and was further developed in Europe in 1400. Movable metal type was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1400s, making possible the mass production of printed material. Today, print publications remain popular, but they are receiving strong competition from digital publications. 

Film and Television

Experimental movies were first created in the late 1870s. Georges Méliès introduced narrative films in 1899 in France. In 1903 Edwin Porter filmed The Great Train Robbery, the first motion picture that told a story using modern filming techniques. Until 1927, films were silent and featured subtitles, as well as background music provided by musicians at movie theaters. The emergence of films with sound, or “talkies,” created strong growth in the industry. The sector has faced many challenges to its popularity with American consumers over the years (television, the Internet, video games, etc.), but movies still are a very popular entertainment choice. Technology continues to change the sector. Today, many films are shot not using film, but via digital production methods. Three-dimensional movies are also popular. Movie-watching options have changed so that movies are now viewed not only in theaters, but also on broadcast television, cable television, the Internet, and handheld digital devices. 

Modern television developed from experiments with electricity and vacuum tubes in the mid-1800s, but it was only in 1939, when President Franklin Roosevelt used television to open the New York World’s Fair, that the public realized the power of television as a means of communication. Soon thereafter, several television stations went on the air and televised college football games, professional baseball games, and the Democratic and Republican conventions of 1940. Nightly newscasts began in 1948, and the television industry expanded rapidly in the 1950s. The Federal Communications Commission gradually lifted a freeze on the processing of station applications, and the number of commercial stations grew steadily, from 120 in 1953 to more than 1,380 in 2011. In the 1970s, pay television, also known as cable television, became popular, and it remains so today. Satellite television, which is delivered by communications satellites, is also a popular viewing option. Television “channels” are also becoming available on the Internet. Today, television is watched not only on a TV screen, but also on the Internet and on digital devices, such as the iPad. 


Communication signals were first sent without the use of wires in 1895 by an Italian engineer named Guglielmo Marconi. In 1906, the human voice was transmitted for the first time by Reginald A. Fessenden. Small radio shows started in 1910. Ten years later, two commercial radio stations went on the air, and by 1921, a dozen local stations were broadcasting. The first network radio broadcast (more than one station sharing a broadcast) was of the 1922 World Series. By 1926, stations across the country were linked together to form the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The first radio broadcast to be transmitted around the world aired four years later. Some thought that the emergence of television in the 1950s would doom radio, but today, more than 60 years later, radio remains a popular means of entertainment and information. In addition to being broadcast via transmitters, radio programming is now provided via satellite technology and on the Internet.

Video Games

The computer and video game industry traces its beginnings to the 1960s and early 1970s, when computer programmers at some large universities, private companies, and government labs began designing games on mainframe computers. In 1972, Computer Space became the first video game in an arcade, but it was not a success. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, designers working for Atari and Intellivision created games for home video systems, PCs, and video arcades. They became extremely popular. As technology developed, the video game industry grew quickly. Today, video games are available for play online, on home computers, on smart phones, and on handheld digital devices. In some years, revenue in the video game industry exceeds that of the film industry.


The Internet began as a project of the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1960s to create a comprehensive, indestructible computer network that could communicate even when under enemy attack. An internetwork (a network of networks) called ARPANET was created to meet this goal, although the networks were still not linked worldwide. Eventually, military and defense contractors, universities, science agencies, and other organizations were allowed to connect to this internetwork. In 1983, a new protocol (the way computers talk to each other) called Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) was integrated into ARPANET, and the all-inclusive network finally was realized. Many Internet historians cite ARPANET’s switching over to TCP/IP as the event that marked the birth of the Internet. The World Wide Web was the brainchild of physicist Tim Berners-Lee, who developed a way to organize information in a more logical fashion by using hypertext to link portions of documents to one another. Although Berners-Lee formed his idea of the Web in 1989, it took another four years before the first Web browser (Mosaic) made it possible for people to navigate the Web simply. The Internet has come a long way from its military origins in the 1960s. Today, it is a massive repository of information (of varying degrees of usefulness), a means of almost instant worldwide communication, a place to research and purchase products, a destination for communicating with friends and business contacts via Facebook and LinkedIn, and much more. 

Major Trends

Many laws have been passed to regulate the U.S. media and entertainment industry. One groundbreaking law was the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The act removed limits on the number of broadcasting stations that a single individual or organization can control. In a single market, the maximum number of stations that a broadcaster can own was increased to eight. The legislation paved the road for mega-media companies to emerge, with buyouts and consolidations becoming more common. The legislation also made it harder for small stations to compete with large media companies for market share and advertising revenue.

Technology has changed the media and entertainment industry in many ways in recent years. One major change is the way in which content is created. For example, many filmmakers now use digital recording technology instead of film to make movies. Animated films are now produced using digital animation techniques rather than cel animation (which is more labor/time intensive). Computer design programs are increasingly being used to create crowd scenes, detailed backdrops, and other elements common in films. In fact, the quality of computer-generated characters and scenery is so good in some movies that audiences have not been able to tell the difference between live-action and computer-generated elements. Approximately 60 percent of the scenes in the movie Avatar, which won the Academy Award for Visual Effects in 2009, were computer generated.

Technology has also changed the way content is delivered to consumers and the manner in which it is viewed. For example, newspapers used to be available only in print format, but now most newspapers have Web sites or special digital versions that can be accessed on computers and mobile devices. Some newspapers have even stopped publishing print editions entirely and now offer content online free of charge or for a fee. Until recently, people watched television shows only on TV sets in their homes. Today, you can watch TV on the Internet—whether on your laptop, tablet, or your smart phone.

While advances in technology have created substantial growth in some areas (such as the Internet), it has caused other sectors, such as newspapers and magazines, to lose advertising revenue, struggle to reinvent themselves via digital publications, and search for new revenue streams to replace those lost with declining print sales. The jury is still out on whether traditional media will be able to adapt to these changes in technology.

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