Broadcast television shows may not have been perfect, but at least they were free. However, that all changed in 1972, when the first pay network, HBO, came on the scene. Previously, viewers' only choices were the three major networks, PBS and local independent stations. Suddenly, unedited, commercial-free movies were available on home TVs. Boxing matches, comedy specials and original programming came later. Unfortunately, rollout was slow; not everyone in the country got the HBO joy at once. Atlanta station WTBS was next on the scene, and by the end of the decade, cable had 16 million subscribers [source: California Cable].
But how could the new system grow? Deregulation legislation. The 1984 Cable Act motivated investment in pay television. Expansion exploded, and the California Cable and Telecommunications Association reports that 53 million homes had cable by the end of the decade. But that's not enough. Satellite networks expanded during the next 10 years, and when the 21st century rolled around, 70 percent of American homes were enjoying cable ... and more.
Other options popped up. Consumers could stream television through a number of sources, including Amazon Prime, Netflix and Hulu. Non-broadcast series started to win awards. In 2013, the non-broadcast series "Homeland," "Breaking Bad," "Boardwalk Empire," "House of Cards" and "The Newsroom"dominated the Emmys for dramas [source: Hughes]. This achievement is huge, considering that non-broadcast shows were not even allowed to compete until the late 1980s. Once they got into the game, it was no holds barred.