The broadcasting industry consists of radio and television stations and networks that create content or acquire the right to broadcast taped television and radio programs. Networks transmit their signals from broadcasting studios via satellite signals to local stations or cable distributors. Broadcast signals then travel over cable television lines, satellite distribution systems, or the airwaves from a station’s transmission tower to the antennas of televisions and radios. Anyone in the signal area with a radio or television can receive the programming. Most Americans receive their television broadcasts through cable and other pay television providers. Although cable television stations and networks are included in this article, cable and other pay television distributors are classified in the telecommunications industry.
Radio and television stations and networks broadcast a variety of programs, such as national and local news, talk shows, music programs, movies, other entertainment, and advertisements. Stations produce some of these programs, most notably news programs, in their own studios; however, much of the programming is produced outside the broadcasting industry. Establishments that produce filmed or taped programming for radio and television stations and networks-but do not broadcast the programming-are in the motion picture industry. Many television networks own production companies that produce their many shows.
Cable and other program distributors compensate local television stations and cable networks for rebroadcast rights. For popular cable networks and local television stations, they pay a fee per subscriber and/or agree to broadcast a less popular channel owned by the same network. Revenue for radio and television stations and networks also comes from the sale of advertising time. The rates paid by advertisers depend on the size and characteristics (age, gender, median income) of a program’s audience. Educational and noncommercial stations generate revenue primarily from donations by individuals, foundations, government, and corporations. These stations generally are owned and managed by public broadcasting organizations, religious institutions, or school systems.
Changes in government regulation and technology have affected the broadcast industry. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 relaxed ownership restrictions, an action that has had a tremendous impact on the industry. Instead of owning only one radio station per market, companies now can purchase up to eight radio stations in a single large market. These changes have led to a large-scale consolidation of radio stations. In some areas, five FM and three AM radio stations are owned by the same company and share the same offices. The ownership of commercial radio stations is increasingly concentrated. In television, owners are permitted two stations in larger markets and are restricted in the total number of stations nationwide (in terms of percent of all viewers).
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a proponent of digital television (DTV), a technology that uses digital signals to transmit television programs. Digital signals consist of pieces of simple electronic code that can carry more information than can conventional analog signals. This allows for the transmission of better quality sound and higher resolution pictures, often referred to as high-definition television (HDTV). FCC regulations require all stations to broadcast digital signals as well as conventional analog signals. The current goal of the FCC is to have all stations stop broadcasting analog signals by 2007. Thereafter, any viewers using an analog TV and over-the-air signals will need a converter box to change the signal from digital to analog. Nearly half of all television stations are currently broadcasting digital HDTV signals in response to FCC regulations. Many digital cable systems and satellite television providers already broadcast all their channels digitally, with some channels in high definition.
The transition to HDTV broadcasting has also accelerated the conversion of other aspects of television and radio production from analog to digital. Many stations have replaced specialized hardware with less specialized computers equipped with software that performs the same functions. Stations may use digital cameras, edit with computers, and store video on computer servers. Many major network shows now use HDTV cameras and editing equipment.
The transition to digital broadcasting also is occurring in radio. Most stations already store music, edit clips, and broadcast their analog signals with digital equipment. Satellite radio services, which offer 100 channels of digital sound, operate on a subscription basis like pay television services. To compete, radio stations are beginning to embed a digital signal into their analog signals. With a specially equipped radio, these digital services offer better quality sound and display some limited text, such as the title of the song and the artist.