Although we tend to think of television primarily as a household fixture, TV monitors outside the home are widespread: in bars, laundromats, and stores; conveying flight arrival and departure times in airports; uniting crowds at sports events and allaying boredom in waiting rooms; and helping to pass the time in workplaces of all kinds. In "Ambient Television", Anna McCarthy explores the significance of this pervasive phenomenon, tracing the forms of conflict, commerce, and community that television generates outside the home. Discussing the roles television has played in different institutions from 1945 to the present day, McCarthy draws on a wide array of sources. These include retail merchandising literature, TV industry trade journals, and journalistic discussions of public viewing, as well as the work of cultural geographers, architectural theorists, media scholars, and anthropologists. She also uses photography as a research tool, documenting the uses and meanings of television sets in the material culture of built environments.
Applying various theories of scale and place to argue that television is a surprisingly flexible medium, McCarthy focuses on such locations as the tavern-one of the first public venues to feature television-and explores how the medium affected post-war ideas about masculine, working-class leisure and community. In a discussion of department store television in the same period, she shows how the experimental use of in-store TV advertising played a strategic role in dialogues on consumption and femininity. Turning to contemporary examples, McCarthy discusses practices such as Turner Private Networks' efforts to transform waiting room populations into advertising audiences and the use of point-of-sale video that influences brand visibility and consumer behaviour. Finally, she inquires into the activist potential of out-of-home television through a discussion of the video practices of two contemporary artists in everyday public settings. Scholars and students of cultural, visual, urban, American, film, and television studies will be interested in this thought-provoking, interdisciplinary book.