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Television in Australia

Television was introduced to Australians in 1956. Within three years it had cemented itself as the nation's primary source of entertainment. Television changed the way Australians spent their leisure time - people began staying at home, rather than going out to the cinema or other venues.

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Television exposed Australians to American culture on a larger scale than ever before. Inevitably, the influence of television would prompt marked social change in Australia, as people began to identify with and emulate the values, ideas and trends diffused by popular American television programmes like Perry Mason and I Love Lucy.

Australians were not just passive recipients of American culture, however. As television helped bridge the nation's geographical isolation, Australians were able to stay abreast of global events and developments like never before. Thus, Australians were able to participate in important social changes, like the women's liberation movement, rather than simply hearing about it afterwards.

Television also played an important role in the evolution of Australia's national identity. It created a forum for uniquely Australian stories to be played out and allowed Australians to share different cultural experiences. It also provided a direct channel for American and British values, humour and style to influence Australian society.

The development of television

From the 1970s onwards, television was widely enjoyed as a cheap, easily accessible form of entertainment. Australian television channels began broadcasting in colour in 1975. Colour technology rejuvenated interest in the medium and allowed certain kinds of shows well-suited to colour, like music and sport programmes, to flourish.

In the 1990s, technological advancements like digital television and pay TV, granted people a much wider range of programming choices. Movies, music, comedy, sport and news could now be accessed 24 hours a day.

Pay TV in Australia was not embraced as quickly as other forms of entertainment had been in the past, but its uptake still compared favourably with that of other countries. In 1996, it was estimated that 5 percent of households subscribed to pay TV, rising to 11 percent in 1998 and 17 percent by the end of the decade. Currently, around 25 percent of Australian families subscribe to pay TV.

Television's negative impact

Paralleling television's ever-increasing popularity, however, were concerns about the impact of television on everyday life. Many parents, psychologists and health experts feared that long hours spent watching television led to a number of problems, including: a negative effect on the social and emotional development of children; a reduction in the quality of family life; increasing obesity rates and a direct correlation between violence on television and the aggressive behaviour of children in other situations.

News, current affairs and videotape

In the early 1960s, the advent of videotape had an immediate impact on television production. It enabled the efficient recording, preservation, re-broadcasting and resale of television programmes.

In the early days of television, much live broadcasting was not recorded at all and was lost completely. Some news images were recorded onto film, but it was a slow, laborious and expensive process.

Later, some television broadcasts were recorded onto kinescopes, which involved recording the programme onto film from a television screen while it was being broadcast. These recordings, however, were blurred and low-quality.

Videotape also offered a cheaper, more efficient and immediate means of recording, editing and broadcasting news. It also allowed television stations to now pre-record news clips and broadcast them in high-quality during the evening, when most people were watching television.

Satellite technology

By 1968, Australia's whole telecommunications system was connected to the international satellite system and almost all Australian capital cities were linked by satellite.

Satellites enabled television stations to transmit their programmes across a much wider area than previous ground-based modes of broadcast, revolutionising both the news production and television entertainment industries.

To broadcast a television programme in several cities in the 1950s, a tape of the programme would have been hand-delivered from one city to another. Satellite technology, however, allowed programmes to be broadcast simultaneously to many cities in Australia, or even to other countries. News stories and programmes could also be shared between capital cities.

Video cassette recorders (VCRs)

During the early 1980s, VCR technology transformed home entertainment. VCRs freed viewers from the constraints of television schedules, allowing them to record television programmes and watch them later. The VCR boomed in popularity, and spawned many video hire businesses. Cinemas, however, did not fare so well - many were forced to close, or slash ticket prices in order to attract customers.

Radio and technology

Over the decades, radio has proven remarkably adaptable to our changing way of life. From heavy, immovable radio sets in the 1950s, radios evolved to help the medium survive the advent of television. Car radios catered to a more mobile population and portable transistor radios meant that people could take their radios outdoors, or on trips to the park or the beach.

Radio technology played a major role in the diffusion of American popular music into Australia. Australian commercial radio in the 1950s repeatedly played the music of American rock 'n' roll artists, in an effort to capture the new 'youth' market. Once rock 'n' roll had penetrated Australian society, its fashion, attitudes and lifestyle would soon follow.

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Evolving radio technology also provided avenues for marginalised groups to gain access to the airwaves. In the late 1960s, many minority groups were dissatisfied with the commercial radio formats and believed that they were not adequately represented. The introduction of FM radio technology in the 1970s created many more radio channels, granting space for students, ethnic minorities and other groups to broadcast their own radio programmes.

In the 1980s, radios were commonly installed in alarm clocks and personal stereos featured radio capabilities. By the end of the 1990s, radio broadcasts from all over the world could be listened to via the internet.

Cinema and technology

Cinema audience numbers have suffered mixed fortunes over the decades. In the 1950s, cinema technology was forced to advance rapidly in the face of the television threat. Better sound quality, wider screens, technicolour and the drive-in cinema were employed to encourage audiences back to the big screen.

Prior to TV, news reels depicting important domestic and international events were screened at the cinema before a movie. The advent of television, however, forced cinemas to scrap newsreels, as TV offered a more immediate news service free of charge.

In the 1970s and 1980s, home-based entertainment mediums, like colour television, VCRs and home computers, drew people away from cinemas. With the advent of the internet, DVDs and pay television, many believed that the end for cinemas was nigh, however, the opposite seems to have occurred.

In the 1990s, the cinema industry experienced a worldwide upsurge of interest. Some people have attributed this to the popularity of home videos, which may have helped many people become accustomed to watching feature length films. New suburban multiplex cinemas were built across the country. These state-of-the-art complexes featured large screens, surround sound, and crystal-clear pictures. They also boasted numerous cinema screens, enabling a wide range of films to be screened simultaneously. Throughout the 1990s, computer-generated imagery (CGI ) revolutionised film-making. Before CGI, special effects were created using less realistic techniques, such as stop-motion animation.

In 1993, however, the film Jurassic Park used CGI to create a world inhabited by incredibly life-like dinosaurs, thus revealing the full potential of CGI technology. Subsequent popular American films of the decade, like Forrest Gump (1994) and Titanic (1997) also used CGI to create dazzling special effects. In 1995, Toy Story became the first film to be created entirely by computer-generated imagery.

Music and technology

Technology has long been the key to the success of any nation's music industry - providing the vital means of transmitting musical products to an audience. In the 1950s, for example, the rapid uptake of radio sets by a newly-prosperous Australian population led to the explosive growth of new music styles like rock 'n' roll.

The 1980s also saw a revolution in music technology, prompting a rejuvenation of the music industry. Personal stereos enabled people to play music on cassette tapes and listen to it through headphones wherever they went. Many people began listening to music while walking, travelling on public transport or exercising.

In the late 1980s, compact discs (CDs) began to replace vinyl records. CDs were lighter and smaller than vinyl records and offered a much higher quality sound.

The advent of the videotape spurred the development of music videos in the 1980s. Videos added a new dimension to music. Some songs were accompanied by energetic dance moves, while others featured performers wearing the latest fashions. The high-rotation of music video clips also had the power to create music industry superstars overnight. Music concerts, like 'Live Aid' (1985), also became international entertainment events.

While advances in music technology have been attributed to the ease with which foreign music is able to dominate the domestic industry, they have also provided avenues for local artists to disseminate (widely spread) their music.

Music production

Music production technology has also changed the nature of music over the decades. Synthesisers, for example, changed the way music sounded by producing electronically-generated sounds.

The advent of computers revolutionised the recording, editing, reproduction and distribution of music. In the 1990s, an artist could digitally record his or her own music, then mix and master the tracks on a home computer. This music could then be burnt to a compact disc and distributed, or uploaded onto the World Wide Web. As a result, the production and consumption of music bypassed traditional processes and recording and listening to music became more accessible.

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Digital Video Discs (DVDs) were introduced in Australia in the late 1990s. DVDs were expensive when they were first released, although they would become cheaper and more popular in the ensuing decade.

DVDs held a much larger amount of information than the compact disc. DVDs also offered better picture and sound quality than video tapes and enabled viewers to skip straight to particular parts of the disc.

Computer games

Personal computers became a common feature in many homes in the late 1980s and 1990s. While their primary purpose was to store, process and display information, gaming software transformed the computer into a major source of home entertainment.

As with other modes of entertainment technology, the social effects of prolonged computer use soon became a public concern. It was feared that, for some children, computers interfered with the development of real peer friendships. Like television, computer games were also accused of leading to increased rates of obesity and of encouraging violent behaviour in children.

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The internet

During the 1990s, internet technology made it possible to experience many traditional forms of entertainment from the home computer, as well as offering new kinds of entertainment.

Australians could now shop, listen to music, watch movies and read newspapers without having to leave home. Internet chat rooms and email meant that socialising was increasingly conducted online and computer games entered a new dimension with the advent of online multiplayer games.

Internet technology allowed people to stay in touch with distant friends and family and offered a convenient, easy-to-access form of entertainment. Many feared, however, that the internet would slowly replace daily human interactions. Concerns were raised that rates of social isolation, loneliness and depression would increase and that traditional ties and feelings of belonging to a 'real' community would dissolve.


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