How did television affect you

Media policy

Gerhard Vowe

Dr. Gerhard Vowe is Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. His research interests include political online communication, media policy, and media security. He is the spokesman for the DFG research group "Political Communication in the Online World".

Philipp Henn

Philipp Henn is a research associate in the Communication and Media Studies department at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and coordinator of the DFG research group "Political Communication in the Online World". His main research interests are political online communication and security in the media.

How does television shape public communication and what status does it currently have? Is it still a leading medium? Young people in particular now prefer the Internet in almost all areas of life that are relevant to them.

Apollo 11 - the first manned moon landing in July 1969 (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Introduction: images in your head

The number sequence "9-11" triggers the same reaction in the vast majority of people: They see certain images in front of them. You see an airplane boring into a skyscraper, from which a ball of fire then emerges. And when the keyword "Wall fall", most Germans remember pictures of columns of Trabi driving through a line of applauding people or of people jostling on the Berlin Wall. When "moon landing" most of the elderly think of how they watched the first moon landing on television in 1969. Many of them remember the slow-motion excerpt from the broadcast of the 1966 World Cup final when they heard the keyword "Wembley goal". They also remember the bitter debate over whether a goal or no goal could be seen .

We originally saw all of these images on television. Television shapes the images in the head, not only the still images, but also the moving image sequences that play out in front of our inner eye. We remember both the astronaut's first footprint in the moon dust and the jerky images showing his first steps on the moon.


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Image icon

Originally derived from the Greek, an icon is actually a special form of religious cult or saint images. In colloquial usage, on the other hand, an icon is understood to mean a person or thing that represents a certain time or an attitude towards life (style icon). In contrast, Bild-Icon emphasizes the condensation of a sense of time or life or a special historical moment in an image created by modern technical processes (analog and digital photography, television or film recording). Such image icons protrude from the daily flood of images and are representative of the time or the event in the collective memory.

Central question: is television still the main medium of public communication?

Our collective memory is shaped by television images, by events that have been burned in by television. Television shapes our shared memories as well as our experience of the present and our view of the future. You can even say that it shapes our worldview as a whole: What we share with a great many others, we take from television. Our ideas of politics, economy, culture, sport and the world of life are determined by television, just as the ideas of generations before were by radio and the press.

But isn't the TV age drawing to a close? Do the original television images still have the weight they had ten years ago? Isn't television being overtaken by the Internet, just as television replaced radio as the leading medium and radio before that, in turn, the press? So our central question is: is television still the main medium of public communication?

This question sounds skeptical even without the "still". Part of the answer is that this question is asked in the first place: The position of television in public communication is no longer a matter of course, just like the photo reports from Stern magazine or the sports broadcasts on the radio are no longer a matter of course for public experience have shaped.

What do we understand by a leading medium?

"Leading medium" is a social construction, that is, an attribution made in a socially consistent manner. It includes the attribution of a managerial function for public communication. This can be differentiated according to aspects, levels, processes, spaces and time periods and thus concretized [1].

The attribution of "leading medium" is based on various aspects, from which different areas of activity result:
  • From a political and journalistic point of view, the shaping of public opinion formation is important,
  • under a cultural aspect the shaping of the worldview,
  • under a lifeworld aspect, the shaping of the everyday life of people and
  • from an economic point of view the importance for added value.
These attributions of partial functions lead to actions and decisions, for example the allocation of attention or the provision of resources.

A distinction can be made between levels of the media offering and thus the originators of the leading effect:
  • In this way, a medium can generally be identified as a leading medium, such as B. the television.
  • However, it can also be attributed to a provider in the context of a medium that its offer has a leading function, such as Das Erste der ARD in the German television program or Der Spiegel in the German weekly press.
  • It can also be assumed that individual offers perform the control functions as prototypes, such as B. the "Tagesschau" in the ARD program, or the cover story in the mirror.
A distinction must also be made between the processes through which a guiding function is made possible, the mechanisms of action that characterize a guiding medium:
  • A medium can be assigned a leading function because it reaches a large proportion of people, i.e. with a view to its reach.
  • A leading function can also be assigned because a media offer is observed through other media and learned from it, e.g. B. other media take over the topics and positions of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (intermedia agenda setting). As a result, it has a special influence on the formation of opinion and will, as is expressed in the term commentary [2]. - It reaches certain audience segments, such as B. the opinion leaders or the economic decision-makers ("prestige media").
  • Finally, a management function can also take place in that parts of the elite, such as B. politicians, a medium such. B. the BILD newspaper, assume a special meaning and understand it as a mouthpiece for public opinion.
Another distinction is made according to the room for which a guiding function is assigned:
  • A medium can be assigned a control function limited to public communication in the local area, for example the local section of a local newspaper such as the Rheinische Post.
  • In the regional area, this can be a public service broadcaster,
  • a leading paper in the national space such as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and
  • a search engine like google in global space.
  • A leading medium can also create a social space that breaks away from territorial boundaries.
The leading medium is a variable term

Finally, with the concept of the leading medium, it must be taken into account that this is not a fixed attribution, but varies over time. In this change there is no sharp replacement of one leading medium by another; rather, there are smooth transitions with very long deadlines. Leading media that have lost their leading role are still important for a long time. The book continues to enjoy enormous cultural appreciation, although it is only of very limited importance for the formation of public opinion. A leading medium must be constantly updated and meet the changing requirements of a leading medium in order to remain the leading medium. We can only consider this multitude of facets in passing when we discuss in the following whether television is still the leading medium.

What do we mean by television?

Television is the epitome of the mass medium, i.e. a medium that enables a communicator to distribute standardized communications (information carriers) to an unlimited number of recipients with great efficiency. Although they know about each other, they don't know each other. Television enables society to observe itself and structure its communication to a previously unknown extent. This in turn has consequences for all areas of society - from politics to the world in which we live. The disputes over access to television and its regulation are correspondingly intense [3].

A special characteristic of the mass medium television is that it has increased and combined the properties of the previously dominant mass media press, radio and film. Television is already a hybrid medium [4] because it combines the characteristics of radio (topicality), film (multimedia) and press (journalistic professionalism).


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Television is characterized by the following features:
  • Very high publicity scores because it offers unlimited access.
  • Very high values ​​for up-to-dateness, as real-time reporting was technically possible.
  • Very high values ​​for the efficiency in signal propagation, provided that the basic technical and organizational prerequisites for production, distribution and consumption have been created.
  • With regard to the frequency of the offer, television is characterized by the linearity of the program, which is arranged according to a fixed schedule, and its simultaneous reception.
  • Given the universality of content, television is characterized by the combination of information, entertainment and education.
  • The interactivity between communicator and recipient is low.
  • There is little leeway in terms of use.
  • The production of the television offer requires a high level of professionalism on the part of the communicators involved and complex organizational structures, especially in the form of technical and hierarchical editorial teams.
  • In terms of territoriality, natural boundaries play only a minor role in diffusion; to this extent the metaphor of the "global village" is justified (cf. McLuhan 1968a, 1968b).

Media law needs a clear distinction between television and non-television from the supply perspective [5]. In the context of communication studies it is therefore more helpful to distinguish between different grades of television: The more these properties apply to a communication, the more justified it is to call this communication "television". For example, the more linear a media offer is produced and received, the more it can be described as "television". This results in a complex concept of television that can be applied to the many phenomena of today's media communication: from the time-shifted use of the "Tagesschau" to the forwarding of TV snippets in online social networks to the publication of videos by private individuals.

Television can be differentiated according to different aspects:
  • After the financing (mainly through taxes, fees, advertising, recipient fees),
  • according to the legal form of the provider (especially as a state authority, public institution, association, company),
  • according to their relationship (monopoly, dominance, duality),
  • according to the program focus (especially entertainment, information, education, advice),
  • according to the program type (especially full program, specialty program),
  • according to the range (local, regional, national, global),
  • according to the signal type (analog, digital) and
  • according to the technical basis of reception (especially antenna, cable, satellite, mobile communications).

The rise of television to become the leading medium

The development towards the leading medium can be read from the diffusion curve in Germany (a diffusion curve describes the course of time, e.g. a product distribution or use). It becomes clear that from the mid-1960s television was received in more than half of German households and thus began to shape public communication (see figure below).

Diffusion of television use in the Federal Republic of Germany ( Graphic for download) Source: Köcher / Bruttel 2011, p. 15; see also Krüger 1997. Please click on the picture to open the graphic. License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)

The reasons for the rapid adoption of television were as follows:
  • The programs were very attractive.
  • The financing of receivers and reception became affordable in the wake of the economic miracle.
  • Subsequently, the growing demand for programs, devices and infrastructure stimulated the supply, which in turn stimulated the demand - although this circle was also strongly influenced by the strict regulation of the area.
Thus, over time, an impressive length of television viewing has developed (see figure below).

Development of the average television time per day, viewers aged 14 and over, in minutes. Source: Reitze / Ridder 2011, Engel / Breunig 2015, p. 312. Up to 1990 only representation of the old federal states. ( Graphic as PDF for download) Please click on the image to open the graphic. License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (bpb)

The penetration of television meant that media usage changed overall and traditional mass media lost ground. The death of the cinema and the discontinuation of numerous popular magazines in the 1960s are clear indications of this. But the conventional media could hold their own if they adapted to the changed conditions and changed their profile:
  • This is how the radio made the transition from a switch-on to an accompanying medium.
  • The daily newspapers focused on local information and background information.
  • The film cooperated with television.
  • The popular magazines differentiated themselves and geared themselves towards very narrow target groups with narrow interest profiles. Or they just fulfilled a service function for television like the program magazines.
Part of the conventional media was thus substituted (replaced) by television and increasingly had to be restricted. Another part was forced to complementarity (through additional reorientation) and had to build up a changed profile.