Example 3 : Television Sets.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there were lots of TV sets that were made in the USA. Sets by General Electric, RCA, Zenith, Curtis Mathes, Marantz, Motorola, Sylvania. It’s a large list. Today, that list is much shorter, and includes very few names. Today, most TVs are made in other countries, then repackaged by a few US companies that sell them.

What happened?

I would say free and open markets, but that’s actually only part of the story. The other part is television broadcast signal standards, where the US was particularly stuck in the past.

As before, after World War II, Europe, and Asia, were rebuilding. This left Television manufacturers in the USA with limited competition. Cathode Ray Tube based TVs were limited, technologically. The way the CRTs worked, it was impractical to build anything over 32 to 36 inches diagonally, because the CRT weighed too much for a single person to move it.

Additionally, the US over the air broadcast standard was analog based, and limited television signals to using two 262 line images to make a single 525 line image. The broadcast speed further limited the number of images to 60 images per second. As it took two images to make a single 525 line picture on the TV screen, the broadcast signal was limited to 30 images per second.

Due to the broadcast standard, and to the lack of competition for Europe and Asia, US Television manufactures learned not to compete. They learned not to evolve their products. Not to improve their products. Not to develop new television technologies. There was no need for new technologies in the television market in the United States.

That started to change with the advent of personal computers. Many of the first personal computers attached to home TV sets. This limited their display systems to the US Television standard. 30 frames per second, composed of two interlaced frames, one with all the odd numbered lines, the other with all the even numbered lines.

With time that changed, as computers started requiring their own CRT displays. Those displays had higher resolution than the broadcast TV standard. Many of them also did away with the interlace screen images, and make each image contain the entire picture. 480 lines in a single image. Then 720 lines. The 1024 lines.

Then, Europe and Asia began developing a new television broadcast standard. One that used 1080 lines of image data. It also used a wider image.

Sensing that US Broadcast Television would be left behind, technologically, by the rest of the world, the US responded by matching the 1080 line broadcast specification. They also tried a 720 line image.

What happened next spelled the end of the US Television Manufacturing Industry. TV manufacturers in the US had never developed new display technology. They made CRTs. CRTs didn’t work well with the new 1080 line images, they could only display a section of such images. Modifying CRTs to work with the 1080 line images was expensive. New screens had to be made. New CRT guns had to be made. New, high density, RGB meshes had to be made, with smaller dots, more accurately aligned. Corresponding changes had to be made to the CRTs that drew the images. Those had to operate more precisely, aiming at smaller dots on the screens. They also had to work faster, drawing 4 times as many lines than they had drawn before.

In short, the CRTs had to be reinvented. All those manufacturing lines, all those machines that made the parts of a TV, had to be replaced, re-engineered, redesigned.

The Television manufacturers had to start over.

They tried. But they made all the wrong decisions. The Asian and European manufacturers had all been developing flat panel display systems that were digital. These systems didn’t have the same limits that CRT panels did. They drew entire lines at one time. They also were able to address single dots on the screen. And they did it all at 60 screens per second.

Once again, because the US television market had been a captive market, without competition from the outside, the US television manufacturers had learned to not invest in new technologies. They simply worked to improve, and maintain, their profit margins. There was no need to invest in new technologies. There was no need to improve the product. It was good enough. And it sold.

Until the TV broadcast standard changed, and suddenly, the US Television manufacturers found themselves hopelessly behind the manufacturers from Europe and Asia. The US manufacturers couldn’t compete.

And they got wiped out. Every last one of them.

Go ahead. Close the market. Make it where the US has to develop its own products. Make it where we have to by products made in the US. Just be aware of the truth that those products will be obsolete. That new technologies will not be developed in the US, because there will be no need for them. That products will not improve over time because there will be no need for them to improve.

Close the market. Isolate the US from the world. Just understand that you won’t be able to get new products that are available outside the US. That your TV won’t get any better. That the TV your children, and your grandchildren purchase, won’t be any better than the one you own.

That’s how protecting the market works. All you have to do is look at history. All you have to do is ask what happened to all those companies in the US that used to make television sets.


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