I was filling my car up with gas the other day at a Mobil station when it struck me that television sets are everywhere! The thought occurred to me because I found myself watching TV while pumping gas. The gas pump had a TV built into it and was showing a combination of news, ads and short entertainment features on a special network just for gas station pumps. At the next aisle over was a taxi cab. Between the driver and the backseat was a small TV, so that passengers could be entertained and shown ads while the cab was stuck in traffic. This got me thinking; it is not just gas stations and taxis. I often watch television while sitting on planes. Not long ago I even found myself watching in a rest room. I was at a sports bar and the bar had individual tv’s at each urinal so that patrons didn’t have to miss a moment of action, just because they needed to use the bathroom.
The key question is “why have television sets become so ubiquitous?” The answer after some investigation is simple. Television sets have fallen drastically in price and are now very cheap! How cheap? Best Buy is currently selling a small (19 inch) television for $100. How much would a similar set cost over the past 65 years? The graph below, using data from the consumer price index (see chapter 7 of my textbook) shows in the year 2000 the price for that $100 set (assuming it could have been built) was over ten times as much (~$1,100). In the year 1950 the price for a roughly similar sized television (but with poorer quality and a larger footprint) was over thirty times as expensive as today ($3,420).
We all think that computers get dramatically cheaper over time. The fall in television prices at the retail level for the past few years has left computers in the dust. Last year the typical computer’s price fell by 9%, which is not bad for the consumer. However, television prices fell by almost 16% in just one year. Since 2009 the typical home computer has fallen in price by about 1/3. However, televisions are half the price they were in 2009!
This drastic fall in price means that it is now cost effective to put televisions (and their ads) almost everywhere. So far the only place TV sets have not popped up is in the backs of seats in my lecture hall. However, I fear it is only a matter of time until they do. Given TV’s are so cheap, where do you think they are going to show up next?