Importance of Television in Communication

By Erik Arvidson

Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the World’s Fair in New York City in 1939, and made the first televised presidential address, television has grown into a primary medium of communication to inform, entertain and promote. While the television offerings have become increasingly fragmented, first with cable TV and later with Internet-based TV, the typical American household spends several hours daily in front of the television.


Television has significantly transformed politics, helping to shape the outcome of elections and political campaigns. The 1960 presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon may have been the first modern political campaign where voters were dramatically influenced by television. In a September 1960 debate, in front of 70 million viewers, Nixon did not wear makeup and appeared to sweat, while Kennedy was poised and comfortable. It was seen as a turning point in Kennedy’s eventual election victory. Candidates invest heavily on TV as the most effective medium to communicate with voters. Political advertising on television consumes between 50 and 75 percent of national candidates’ total political spending, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.


Television was the most influential advertising medium to reach consumers, as of 2011, according to Deloitte’s “State of the Media Democracy” report in March 2011. Overall, 86 percent of Americans surveyed said that television advertising had an impact on their purchasing decisions. By comparison, 50 percent said magazine advertising was influential, 47 percent said online advertising, 44 percent said newspaper advertising, 32 percent said radio advertising and 13 percent said billboards and outdoor advertising. So-called “Generation Xers,” which were those aged 27 through 43 at the time of the survey, were most influenced by TV advertising of any age group, with 86 percent saying they paid attention to TV ads. Eighty-two percent of “Leading Millennials” -- ages 21 through 26 -- and 82 percent of “Boomers” -- ages 44 through 62 -- said TV ads were influential, compared to 80 percent of “Training Millennials” -- ages 14 through 20 -- and 80 percent of “Matures” -- ages 63 through 75.


For most Americans, television is the top source of consuming news, according to an August 2008 report by the Pew Research Center in "People & the Press." Overall, 52 percent of those surveyed said their source for news was local TV news, along with 39 percent saying cable TV news. By comparison, 35 percent said radio news and 34 percent said newspapers. Thirty-seven percent said online news was a major source.

Response to Tragedy

Dramatic images on television can also serve as a catalyst to shape public opinion. As an example, following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska, widespread news coverage of the environmental impact galvanized public opinion against the Exxon Shipping Co., with a jury awarding $5 billion in punitive damages to plaintiffs who sued Exxon -- later reduced to $2.5 billion by another judge. Similarly, coverage of the 1993 flooding in the Midwest led to widespread relief efforts to help people who were homeless or who lost possessions, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications.