When the medium of television was first introduced, viewers had no other choice but to use rooftop antennas or so-called "rabbit ear" antennas in order to receive broadcast signals. If the location of the transmitter and the location of the television set were not optimal, the signal could be weak to virtually non-existent. In order to counter this loss of signal, some local television services would run lengths of coaxial cable to certain customers, who paid a subscription fee to cover the company's expenses. This became the first generation of cable television service, although it was not designed to do more than provide customers with the same network broadcasts as those with clear reception through antennas.
Modern cable television, however, does offer a number of advantages over the original analog over-the-air television broadcasts. One of the first advantages addressed by the earliest cable TV systems was better reception. There was no longer a need for television viewers to make numerous adjustments to an interior rabbit ear antenna or an external antenna mounted on the roof. The signal from a cable TV system fed directly into the television set's internal tuner, resulting in a clearer picture and improved audio.
Cable television technology also allows numerous channels to share broadcasting space on the same delivery system. Instead of maintaining separate transmitters for each over-the-air channel, the same transmission system can carry hundreds of channels by assigning each one a specific frequency along the spectrum. These channels provide viewers with different types of programming geared towards specific interests. Traditional broadcast channels often present a sampling of different types of programming, but cannot dedicate all of their airtime to one type of viewer.
Some people prefer cable because it provides unique programming without some of the content restrictions placed on traditional networks. Because cable television is a closed system, only subscribers have access to the channels they choose to watch. A cable channel has the right to show programs which feature strong language, suggestive sexual content or violent imagery, as long as this information is clearly communicated to the viewer before the broadcast. FCC regulations concerning cable television content are not as strict as those imposed on traditional over-the-air networks.
Many cable TV systems also have the capacity to provide subscribers with telephone service and Internet access through a high-speed digital modem. All of these services can be bundled together at a reasonable monthly rate, thus eliminating the need for separate telephone and Internet access accounts with other providers. Some cable television systems have interactive features which allow viewers to select specific programs and movies for on-demand viewing, or provide digital recording for later review.
As of 12 June 2009, virtually all television stations operating in the United States must broadcast their signals in digital form, not the older analog format. Because cable television signals are already digital, subscribers do not have to purchase special analog-to-digital converter boxes in order to keep receiving regular programming.