The Evolution of Television and the Rise of Advertising

AdTech Industry

The Evolution of Television and the Rise of Advertising

Updated on October 23, 2023 by ,

The history of television spans more than one hundred years, first appearing in 1900 as a concept. From the 1920s to the 1930s, mechanical television reigned supreme, but various technological breakthroughs over the years have initiated the development of today’s television.

In this article, we will focus on the different stages of television innovation over time and the way these changes have created the advertising systems we know today.

The evolution and timeline of television from 1817 to today infographic

Etymology Of The Television

The word television comes from the combination of Greek τῆλε (tele) — far, and Latin visio — sight. The name was coined by Constantin Perskyi, Professor of Electricity at the Artillery Academy of Saint Petersburg, in 1900. In his paper, which he presented at the 1st International Congress of Electricity in Paris, he referred to experiments of image transmission of Paul Nipkov, an inventor of the Nipkov disk, and Porfiry Bakhmetiev, the creator of image transmission over distance. And that’s how television appeared for the first time in public.

The Evolution of Television Technologies Over Time

Even though today’s televisions are packed with advanced technology, 200 years ago, broadcasting voice and image at a distance was just a fantasy. More than 100 years have passed since the discovery of selenium was used to build the first primitive television set in 1925 by John Logie Baird.

It was the same with TV advertising. Many years passed from the construction of the first television set to the display of the first TV advertisement by Bulova Co. in 1941.

Mechanical Television

Thanks to a system of discs with drilled holes (Nipkov discs, the master television patent) and radio waves, mechanical television emerged. Despite the rather low quality, resulting from primitive technology, the inventors managed to transmit moving images and sounds over long distances. The resolution ranged from around 30 lines to 120 lines. Mechanic television, which continued to be developed until the 1930s, was an important foundation for further experiments on electric television.

At this point in time, the TV advertising industry did not exist yet.

Electronic Television

The development of televisions as we know them today would not have been possible without the invention of the cathode ray tube (CRT), which is also known as a kinescope (1907). Initially, its service life was only 25-30 hours. However, in 1930, Allen B. DuMont Laboratories extended its service life to 1000 hours and thus popularized television sets.

Another turning point in the history of television was the 10-day show of completely electronic televisions in 1934, which used a live camera. This event was the introduction to regular broadcasting possibilities. Six years later in 1940, black and white televisions gained color.

It was at this point that TV advertising started to emerge. 

The first company to advertise in a TV commercial was Bulova in 1941. They displayed a simple 9-second-long spot with the company’s logo on top of a map of the US and included a voice-over saying “Americans run on Bulova time”.

Color Television

The 1940s brought further technological changes. Color images started to appear, but it took almost 20 years for color TVs to replace black and white televisions. Since the production of color TV sets was limited, it took a while for advertisers to invest money in TV advertising. 

It is worth noting that the culture of watching TV significantly differed from today’s standards. The shows were public and TV sets were mainly available in larger centers, not in private households as they are today.

Official announcement — New York’s first public demonstration of color television. Source: Wayback Machine

The situation changed dramatically in a matter of just fifteen years. Long story short, the most important events in the 1950s were the following:

  • 1951: Advertisers spent $128 million on TV’s ads.
  • 1953: Commercial color televisions were launched.
  • 1955: Advertisers spent $1 billion on TV’s ads.

A decade later, advertisers wishing to display their ads in “The Big 3″ (CBS, ABC, and NBC) broadcasters had to pay $50,000 for a prime-time minute.

From Digital to Connected TV

From the 1970s, television slowly began to enter a new stage. Progress in image compression made it possible to improve the quality and provide faster transmission, which broadened the transmission bands and enabled the switch from an analog to a digital signal.

The 1990s, in particular, was an intensified period of transformation — households bought TV sets on a large scale, which for advertisers meant access to a wide audience.

There were also Internet advertisements (1994), the pay-per-rental business model (PPR; 1997), digital video recorders (DVR; 1999), which are considered both supplementary and competitive “products” of television.

Since 2000, Internet service providers (ISPs) have been moving their platforms to smart TVs.

Connected TV (CTV) is the modern way of accessing broadcasting services. Thanks to Wi-Fi or Internet cables plugged into a TV set, streaming services can be watched with no limits in time. 

CTV also brought with it a new era of video services on demand. It enables providers to offer their users the experience they know from video-streaming services on the Internet, such as pausing, saving the exact moment where the user stopped watching a movie or a program and creating watchlists — a list of shows and movies the viewer would like to watch.

CTV is definitely gaining momentum and the last few years have been groundbreaking for video-streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu that have started to generate millions of dollars of revenue just from monthly subscription fees.

In 2022, CTV in the USA is estimated to be watched by approximately 204 million people. At the same time, cable TV has experienced the phenomena of cord-cutting, which has resulted in smaller audiences for cable TV providers.

Global television advertising revenue from 2015 to 2024 (in billion U.S. dollars). Source: Statista

Broadcast Systems

A TV’s broadcasting system is the key element that differentiates the various types of TVs and refers to the way the TV signal is sent over a distance, processed, and received. There are four ways to distribute a signal and each of them uses a different piece of technology.

Terrestrial Television

The oldest broadcasting system is terrestrial television. It uses metal antennas plugged into TV sets to receive signals transmitted over the air by radio waves from a TV mast. Antennas are set on terrain elevations and roofs. London’s Alexandra Palace is the birthplace of analog television — in 1936 the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) adapted the place into a television station and started broadcasting a regular program.

Alexandra Palace television station. ©Jack Rose, Wikimedia Commons, License cc-by-sa-3.0

Nowadays, the technology has switched from an analog to digital signal, which enables the transmission of 4 to 16 times more TV programs thanks to image and sound compression in the MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 systems.

Great Britain was the first European country to launch digital terrestrial television. Since 2015, no country in Europe has broadcast its program via analog terrestrial television.
Cable Television
Where wireless coverage was limited, cable TV providers installed coaxial cables or optic cables. To receive cable television, you required a service drop (underground or overhead), a cable connection to a specific TV set, and a set-top box (cable converter box).

Initially, similarly to terrestrial television, the signal was analog. However, providers quickly switched to a better-quality digital signal, enabling the reception of high-definition channels (HDTV).

Satellite Television

Satellite television can be placed in areas where terrestrial and cable television cannot receive a signal. To transmit the signal, the satellite system uses communication satellites placed in orbit. To receive and decode it, you need an external satellite dish and a low-noise block downconverter (LNB). The so-called “direct to home” (DTH) or direct-broadcast satellite television (DBSTV) method is the most popular method of receiving a television signal over a satellite system.

Internet Television

The last television broadcasting system is Internet television or streaming television. In general, Internet television creates the possibility of receiving TV content via an Internet connection. Along with the digital signal, series, films, news programs, as well as advertisements are broadcast.

There are several terms related to Internet TV:

  • Connected TV (CTV) – we described the system in this post
  • Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) 
  • Peer-to-peer TV (P2PTV)
  • Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV) – we described the system in this post

Multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) provide several television channels that typically come with a subscription and cable television. However, in recent years the distributors have been experiencing a phenomenon of cord-cutting, meaning viewers are canceling pay subscriptions and opting for cheaper or free equivalents available via OTT. Cord-cutters are exceptionally sensitive to price changes and tend to drop their subscriptions if the price rises.

There are some additional phrases related to cord-cutting:

  • Cord-nevers —  people who either didn’t own a traditional television or grew up with OTT streaming services and don’t see the reason to pay for broadcast television.
  • Cord-shaving — the situation where rises in traditional TV subscription fees cause viewers to switch to a cheaper package of channels and then complement them with services available through the Internet (e.g. streaming services).

In the MVPD and cord-cutting landscape, there is a need to describe the term Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (vMVPD) and their skinny bundles.

Streaming services like YouTube TV, which provides channels from ABC, CBS, Fox, and others, as well as fuboTV with offerings from National Geographic, TNT, and CNBC, are examples of vMVPD. The distributors offer a smaller number of channels for a monthly subscription fee, typically half the price of a regular cable TV subscription.


The combination of technological advancements and changing consumer needs lead to new forms of television. Traditional television has almost become a thing of the past and has been replaced with advanced TV, such as OTT, connected TV, addressable TV, and addressable VOD.

As new kinds of TV emerge, viewers have more options to choose from and consume TV content the way they actually want. They can omit the content they are not keen on, play movies whenever they want, and get relevant and targeted advertisements to make smarter choices.

Thanks to the companies that are pushing the boundaries, utilizing new technologies, and ultimately creating new forms of TV we — the TV consumers — can enjoy new experiences.

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