Remote Control

In the 1980s, the remote control ruled American culture.  Although remote controls had been invented many years before, they were not popular because they were expensive and used sound to transmit commands to the television set.  However, as remote control technology improved by the late 1970s, they became cheaper to make and more reliable.  Remote controls became so popular and in demand that they were often included for free with the purchase of a new television set.

The widespread use of the remote control changed the way that people watched television.  Before the remote control was popular, most TV viewers patiently watched a television show and rarely changed channels.  When every household had a remote control, however, people tended to “channel surf” where they would quickly change channels, scanning to find interesting content.

Because of channel surfers, many television stations had to change their television shows to be more exciting and to grab viewer’s attention for as long as possible.  As a result, the early to mid-1980s saw the rise of action-oriented television shows such as “The A-Team”, “Miami Vice” and “Magnum P.I.” while the number of slow-paced dramas gradually decreased during the decade.

The invention of the remote control also had a large indirect impact on music in the 1980s.  In 1983, an American television station called “Music Television” or MTV began broadcasting music videos to a young audience.  In order to keep its viewers from getting bored and switching the channel, MTV aired music videos that were short and visually appealing with bright colors and fast-paced scenes or visuals.  As a result, the popularity of music was largely determined by which band could make the best videos.  The length of songs decreased and many people complained that the art of music was being replaced by special effects and bright images.

Remote controls have also affected television commercials.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the average length of a television commercial was around one minute.  Today, however, TV commercials generally run for about 15 seconds.  While earlier ads featured company spokesmen and women who talked about the features of a product, most commercials are now based around colorful imagery, music, and special effects.  Most of these changes are due to the effects of the remote control and are primarily aimed at gaining and keeping viewer attention.