World Television Day

World Television Day - Thursday, November 21, 2024

Special Interest Technology
In 1996, the United Nations general assembly declared November 21 World Television Day. The UN recognized television as having an increased impact on decision making as well as being an ambassador for the entertainment industry. Television is a symbol of communication and globalization that educates, informs, entertains and influences our decisions and opinions.

For those of us who grew up in the western countries the television is almost taken for granted; it has always been there in the corner of the front room, entertaining us with bright colours and sounds, or satisfying our need to learn something new. The television, invented by an assortment of individuals in the late 19th and early 20th century, but often attributed to John Locke Baird, has revolutionised the world.

For the first time moving images could be adequately projected from around the world into the homes of ordinary people, bringing a new level of access to information and entertainment previously only dreamed of. The social and political changes brought about by this innovation were so profound that it was decided to appreciate the medium formally, on a global scale.  

The first World Television Forum was staged by the United Nations in the mid ’90s, and it was out of this event that World Television Day was born. The forum brought together leading figures from the media industry to analyze the growing impact that TV had on decision-making and public opinion when it comes to issues of peace and security around the planet.

History of World Television Day

In December 1996 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the 21st of November World Television Day, the same year the first World Television Forum was held. According to the United Nations, this decision was taken in order to give recognition to the increasing impact television has had on decision-making by bringing various conflicts and threats to peace and security to the world’s attention, as well as its coverage of other major issues, including economic and social. 

Prior to this people received information via radio broadcasting, if a household was equipped with a transistor radio, and the newspapers. Early television broadcasts followed the same format as radio, with a man reading a simple bulletin on a black and white screen. The technology however soon evolved to include images of events and interviews with people. The monochrome style was abandoned when color technology was developed in the mid to late sixties, and TV technology continues to advance with evermore sophisticated optics and digital enhancements. 

However, World Television Day is not meant to be so much a celebration of the electronic tool itself, but rather of the philosophy which it represents–a philosophy of openness and transparency of world issues. Television has long been thought to represent communication and globalization in the contemporary world, but not all of the government representatives present saw matters quite that way.

The delegation from Germany said, “Television is only one means of information and an information medium to which a considerable majority of the world population has no access… That vast majority could easily look at World Television Day as a rich man’s day. They do not have access to television. There is more important information in the media and here I would mention radio in particular.”

Despite this understandable objection the television has still been an instrumental innovation for humanity, in the same category as the printing press, radio communication, and the internet. World Television Day is a chance for us to appreciate not only the extraordinary technological ingenuity of the scientist and engineers who made seemingly impossible things happen, but also to understand the social and cultural implications that such a unifying medium has had on our global communities. 

The internet has connected us in ways we didn’t expect and perhaps could not have imagined, but on World Television Day we remember that television was there first, and paved the way for what was to come. 

How to celebrate World Television Day

The most obvious way to celebrate World Television Day is by watching television. But what? Surely not vulgar reality shows offering little to no value of any kind to their audience? World Television Day is a time to rewatch and relive some of the greatest moments of television that helped bring the reality of a rapidly technologically advancing world into people’s homes, forever changing their lives and how they perceived the world.

1954 marked the launch of Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color”, a family-friendly variety program that mixed iconic cartoons, drama and documentary programming. The very first televised presidential debate between Republican Vice President Richard Nixon and his challenger, relatively unknown Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960 changed the presidential elections forever.

For the first time ever, American voters actually saw the candidates present their ideas, which worked greatly in favor of the young and handsome Kennedy, who went on to win the election. And few moments, if any, in television history could ever surpass Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Ed “Buzz” Aldrin’s moon landing in 1969, which many people consider to be a pivotal moment in their lives until this very day–after that, nothing was going to be impossible again.

World Television Day was established as a way of bringing focus back to these issues on an annual basis. In years gone by, major TV stations have come together on the day to broadcast tributes to the importance of television in people’s lives. The obvious way for anyone to celebrate is to turn on their TV and watch. 

But you don’t have to rely on broadcasting networks to bring you ideas of what to watch on World Television Day. These days our television sets are also internet compatible, allowing us to access a range of content suitable to our specific interests, whether they be educational or for entertainment value. It’s easy to use your television set to look up an historical documentary giving you a window into the past, or choose a cultural figure who was influential in her time and changed the world in some way. In doing so you will be in-keeping with the true purpose of television media, to educate and inspire. 

But if you would rather be entertained, why not select a classic film from the Hollywood archives and imagine you are watching it for the first time, as a member of the original audience. Feeling adventurous? Go all out and dress up in period costumes as well, turn World Television Day into an Annual event that you and your friends can enjoy planning months in advance. 

Those that want to become more involved and have ideas about how to honor the day are welcomed to send their thoughts to the official website.

History of World Television Day

In 1927, a 21 year old inventor by the name of Philo Taylor Farnsworth invented the world’s first electronic television. He lived in a home without electricity until he was 14 years old. In high school, he began to think of a system that could capture moving pictures, change them into a code, and them move those images with radio waves to different devices. He was years ahead of the mechanical television system as his structure captured moving images using a beam of electrons. Farnsworth later famously transmitted the image of a dollar sign using his television after a fellow inventor asked “When are we going to see some dollars from this thing?” Neither of them knew the television would become the emblem for an international day promoting the spread of global information.

On November 21 and 22 in 1996, the United Nations held the first World Television Forum. Here, leading media figures met to discuss the growing significance of television in the rapidly changing world and consider how they might enhance their mutual cooperation. UN leaders recognized that television could bring attention to conflicts, raise awareness of threats to peace and security, and sharpen focus on social and economic issues. Television was acknowledged as a major tool in informing, channeling, and affecting public opinion, having an undoubtable presence and influence on world politics. Because of this event, the UN General Assembly decided to name November 21 World Television Day, not to celebrate the object itself, but the symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world that it represents.

World Television Day timeline


A global icon

The United Nations General Assembly coined November 21 World Television Day


Modern news network

CNN was founded by Ted Turner in Atlanta, Georgia


The first broadcast

The first mechanical tv station called W3XK, created by Charles Francis Jenkins aired its first broadcast.


Playing with electricity

Philo Taylor Farnsworth invented the world's first electronic television.

World Television Day FAQs

Why do we celebrate World Television Day?

The United Nations recognizes television plays a major role in presenting different issues that affect people, so we celebrate how television is a symbol for communication and global education. 

Who first invented television?

The first electronic television was invented by 21 year old inventor Philo Taylor Farnsworth.

What is the role of television in education?

Educational television programs for children, such as Sesame Street, use media to keep children engaged while teaching them about numbers, letters, and social skills. 

World Television Day Activities

  1. Share your favorite TV moment

    There’s a lot to love and get excited about on television. Head over to social media and write about your favorite television moment, whether it happened last week or 20 years ago.

  2. Have a TV themed night

    Invite over your favorite people for TV dinners while watching your favorite program. Complete the evening with a family game like Scene It, or a television themed game like Loony Tunes, Monopoly, or Yu-Gi-Oh!

  3. Go ahead and binge

    Do you forego a good TV binge because you think you should be getting stuff done? This day was made for you! Put on some cozy sweats, make yourself some popcorn and indulge in episode after episode of your favorite show. If you feel any guilt over such a leisurely activity, remind yourself that you're supporting the ideals of the United Nations with your actions—or in this case, inaction.

Why We Love World Television Day

  1. It acknowledges a daily part of our lives

    In the United States, on average, people watch 3.5 hours of television a day. Whether it's news, sports, concerts, shows, or movies we turn to television to entertain and inform. Television as entertainment isn’t limited to the United States either. There are roughly 610 million viewers globally. Knowing there is a day devoted to its higher purposes allows us to feel better about our decision to indulge in a little T.V. at the end of the day.

  2. It’s a beneficial medium worthy of recognition

    At one time, television meant the box sitting in the living room that received radio waves and transmitted images. Those days are gone. Television is now any system which transmits sound and images and is displayed on a screen. It can still be the big screen in the den, but it also refers to your desktop, laptop or phone. As long as they're accessing programs, they're fair game! With its many innovations, T.V. is a source of entertainment and information we access daily.

  3. TV creates community

    Head to social media and type in your favorite television show, news program or network and there will be plenty of comments, likes and shares. Television offers a commonly held experience to talk about with others. So whether your interests extend to who has died on The Walking Dead or an interview with the president on Face the Nation, there is a whole community in the virtual world with whom you can gossip.

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