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The evolving screen size

With various experiments in the 1920s and the start of commercial broadcasts in the 1930s, it really wasn't until the era following World War II that television truly came into its own.

Two of the most popular receivers of the time were the RCA 621 and the RCA 630. The sets were shipped in two boxes — one containing the cabinet and chassis, and the other containing the CRT. The shipment also included a dire admonition to the customer to await the arrival of an installation technician, who would complete the assembly and installation of what was at that time perceived to be incredibly delicate and complex technology.

The 621 had a 7in CRT, which is about the same size as the YouTube video window on my 24in computer display; while the 630 had a 10in display comparable to the video screen size of my Apple iPad. That CRT display, 10in black-and-white receiver cost $435 and had a complement of some 30 vacuum tubes. Remember those strange glass devices with a reddish glow that produced entirely too much heat? Not for the faint of heart, the set was even offered in kit form! Now, $435 may not sound terribly expensive, but that converts to about $5000 today — an amount that can buy a 65in 3-D plasma receiver.

With 5in to 7in diameter screen sizes being fairly typical of the first early TV sets, the 10in RCA 630 was considered by some at the time to be a large-screen receiver. That seems pretty incredible in this era of 108in LCD sets and 103in plasma displays. But, as always, everything is relative. There were periods, respectively, that tube sizes of 17in, 19in, 21in and 35in were considered to be large-screen receivers. Over the years, screen sizes have moved steadily upwards, having reached the point where we are currently, with specially designed media rooms being built or enlarged in order to accommodate today's behemoths.

Small-screen viewing

Interestingly, at the other end of the screen size spectrum there is an explosion of small-screen viewing. Television and other video entertainment content is being delivered to personal computers via the Web, to tablet devices via apps over 3G and Wi-Fi, to phones via subscription over 3G and 4G networks, and the latest implementation in portable entertainment — mobile video delivered by broadcasters. We live in a society that is dominated by people who are hooked on video. And, whether sports, entertainment or news, they want that viewing capability with them no matter where they are.

Driven by today's technology mantra of “build it, they will come,” the number of people embracing small-screen viewing is truly amazing. In April, Apple launched the iPad. Concurrent with the launch, ABC introduced its video player for iPad, which enables the on-demand viewing of a broad selection of network programming. Most have read of Apple's success story, selling 1 million iPads in the first month. Perhaps less well-known is the downloading of 400,000 ABC video player apps during that same month. Several months later, ABC released its ABC News app, and it too proved as popular with videophiles. During the first three weeks of its availability, the application was downloaded 100,000 times per week.

Then there is the YouTube phenomenon and its more than 200 million video views per day. Its top videos can count views in the hundreds of millions, and some 200,000 new videos are uploaded to the site each day. All this, despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the available videos are created by amateurs, most with low production value and many poor in video quality.

At this writing, it is too soon to assess the results of the launch of mobile TV services by broadcasters. But given the content, its production value and the high quality of resolution it delivers, assuming no major technical or marketing missteps, it too should find acceptance in the drug cocktail of small-screen video fixes.

Unlike the underbelly of society, however, a major difference is that these small-screen video addicts do not want to pay for their fix. The video services landscape is replete with examples of less than stellar acceptance of services all having one thing in common: monthly fees. Just think about Verizon V-Cast, AT&T Mobile TV and the drubbing taken by Hulu upon the launch of its $10 per month iPad app subscription service. It seems in this Lilliputian world, advertiser-supported free services are perfectly acceptable.

In today's TiVo-centric environment, where a recent study found that 70 percent of home TV viewers in Boston time-shift their favorite programs so they can fast-forward through commercials, this may be a silver lining to advertisers and broadcasters alike. TiVo does not currently offer an iTunes app nor a delay capability for any other mobile service. Advertisers are getting their message delivered, and the videophiles, who are indeed hooked, are getting their fix of small-screen viewing, but nirvana is always fleeting.

Anthony R. Gargano is a consultant and former industry executive.

Send questions and comments to: anthony.gargano@penton.com