Over the Air to Over the Top: The History of Television

25th September 2022

The 21st of November is National Television Day, a holiday honouring the medium as a symbol of globalisation and communication that shapes our values, beliefs, and daily lives. Our journey through the history of British television is broken down into decades, beginning with the very first set and ending with the most cutting-edge technology of today.


The 1920s

On the 26th of January, 1926, Scottish-born engineer John Logie Baird provided the first public demonstration of a functional television system, marking the beginning of television for many. His mechanical “Televisor” beat out two competing electronic television systems in the United States.


The 1930s

A new transmitter in the 1930s made it possible for television to include both a visual and auditory component at once. After this, in 1931, Baird broadcasted the Derby, making it the first live outside transmission. This was followed by the first British television play, The Man with a Flower in his Mouth. Even though the future appeared bright for television, on the 1st of September, 1939, British stations went dark due to the war.


The 1940s

The BBC started broadcasting again on the 7th of June, 1946, and the London Olympics were the first event to be shown in the UK the following summer. Even so, Britain after the war was a quiet time for TV. But in the United States, black-and-white TVs were becoming more common, and by the end of the 1940s, the final touches were being put on what would become colour TV.


The 1950s

By 1955, 95% of the UK could get BBC TV because a series of TV transmitters were built all over the country. In that same year, commercial television (ITV) began to be broadcast in the London area. By the end of the 1950s, there were regular TV shows in almost every genre.


The 1960s

In 1962, Telstar established the first television satellite link across the Atlantic Ocean. By this time, nearly every home had a television, and many viewers tuned in to Coronation Street, the longest-running soap opera in history since its debut in 1960.


The 1970s

Teletext began appearing on televisions in the 1970s. This service was like the Internet of today, giving instantaneous information about anything from the weather to political developments directly into people’s living rooms. The home theatre industry was revolutionised with the introduction of the first video cassette player/recorder in 1978.


The 1980s

Growth in terrestrial television was rapid in the first half of the 1980s, thanks to new ITV contracts and the introduction of Channel 4 in 1982.


The 1990s

In November 1990, BskyB was founded, ushering in the era of satellite television; by the end of the decade, BskyB had begun transmitting digital TV from a new generation of satellites under the brand name Sky Digital.


The 2000s 

The first HD broadcasts took off in the latter half of the decade. The BBC started airing in high definition (HDTV) in 2006 on their new subscription channel BBC HD, then in 2007 they introduced iPlayer so that viewers could catch up on previously aired programming. Whitehaven was the first area to completely transition from analogue to digital terrestrial TV transmissions in 2007, with the rest of the country following suit by 2012.


The 2010s

Historically, the 2010s marked the first time that viewing devices other than televisions (such as smartphones, tablets, and computers) surpassed traditional television sets in popularity.


The 2020s

In the last century of television, we’ve seen many changes, and there will be many more to come. Even advertising has changed, as can be seen by the implantation of OTT services by Finecast. Over-the-top advertisements, often known as streaming TV advertisements, are the commercials shown to viewers during videos. More and more people are turning to online video services like Netflix and Prime to watch television shows and movies instead of tuning in to broadcast or cable networks, so advertising in this way makes sense.