TV today

The dawn of television viewing began with the same model folks used for TV’s predecessor, the radio—with the household gathered around the set for whichever show they all enjoyed. While we may still watch some shows or movies together, we’ve greatly expanded our options for viewing everything from one-minute mini-videos to three-hour+ blockbusters or multi-episode series. 

These days, not only have habits changed from 80 years ago, but so has the technology we use to watch. In today’s multi-screen, multi-platform age, we can watch anywhere, anytime, with virtually no limits. Let’s look at some of the leading options for how we access our favorite entertainment media: broadcast, cable, satellite, and streaming TV. 

Broadcast TV

Broadcast TV signals are transmitted with radio waves. From the launch of home television in the 1920s until the 1980s, households needed an antenna to view local programming. For more than 35 years, three major broadcast networks ruled the airwaves: NBC, CBS, and ABC. When the Fox network launched in 1986, it quickly became more popular than the big three, and opened the way more competition, including cable television.

Cable TV

Cable TV became available in the late 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that it gained a foothold in the consumer TV world. Cable TV is like broadcast in that it delivers programming through radio waves. However, cable TV requires a coaxial cable, a remote controller, and a cable provider. Typically, cable TV has better video quality than broadcast television and offers many more shows and channels.

Satellite TV

Satellite dishes arrived on the scene in the 1980s, popping up across roofs and backyards. Satellite TV became the biggest direct competitor of cable. As the name indicates, it uses satellites to transmit programming instead of radio signals. While satellite TV is generally cheaper than cable, both require technical installation with the service provider then allowing viewers access to their lineup of channels and shows.

Streaming TV

The rise of high-speed home internet ushered in a new era of TV called streaming. By the mid-2000s, television programs were widely available online, and this allowed new flexibility in how, where, and when people watch their favorite shows, sports, and movies. Internet TV, or streaming TV, is now driven by the consumer rather than the broadcast or cable network. With the right internet service, we are now able to choose how we watch our favorite shows and movies any time of day, from virtually anywhere.


Streaming TV is a continuous stream of content delivered over the internet. It requires an internet connection and a device with a screen and video capability. Most smartphones, tablets, and laptops today meet these basic requirements. Many people use a streaming device connected to their TV, such as a Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire Stick. Streaming TV offers hundreds of channels and services to choose from, with some shows still “airing” at specific times, and also greater flexibility when it comes to where and when you “tune in.” Most streaming TV options do not require contracts, and you can cancel anytime. Fiber internet is a great choice for streaming, due to the reliable high bandwidth plans that make it easier to stream on multiple devices at the same time.


Live TV streaming services: Some streaming services function like traditional TV, with live channels, guides, DVR functions, and more. Live streaming TV is ideal for viewing the latest games, local content, and other special programming in real time. Many live streaming channels are free, but there are commercials. Some examples of live streaming services are YouTube TV, Hulu, Peacock, Philo, Fubo TV, and Sling TV.


Subscription video on demand (SVOD) services: These streaming services provide shows, movies, documentaries, comedy specials, and more. Many of the top providers deliver national and international options, as well as shows and movies produced in their own studios. There are typically no commercials, and you select from a library of content to view any time you want, on any device. Examples include Netflix, Starz, Hulu, HBO Max, Showtime, and Amazon.

Your TV, your way

There are so many choices for TV today, it can be difficult to decide what’s best for you and your family. While each service costs far less than a traditional cable or satellite TV package, those subscriptions and per-view costs really add up. It’s worth taking some time to explore which services have shows you’re into, so you can select the one(s) you’re most likely to watch. No matter how you handle your options, the days of flipping through a handful of broadcast or cable channels and finding nothing to watch are all but history.