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Media in the United States

Media in the United States are primarily for-profit corporations based on advertising, subscription[?], and other sales-related revenues. Thanks partly to the strong backing of the U.S. government's foreign policy, many are the leading players, generating profits as well as criticisms in many parts of the world. Further deregulation and convergence[?] are under way, leading to mega-mergers[?], further concentration of media ownership, and emergence of media conglomerates[?]. While these trends may lead one to imagine a stifling world of monopolies, new media, notably the Internet, are creating new opportunities, and old giants are not necessarily the ones who seize them.

Table of contents

The major sectors

The major sectors of US media are as follows:

  • Television and Radio Broadcasting
  • Cable TV
  • Satellite TV & Radio
  • Motion Picture
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines and Books
  • Music Publishing
  • World Wide Web

Television and Radio Broadcasting


Stations and Networks

In the United States, TV industries can be divided into two distinctive sectors—TV stations and TV networks.

TV stations are local in nature. They hold licence from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use a part of the airwaves in a designated area to broadcast TV programs. Their programs come from three sources in most cases: in-house production, syndication and, most important, networks. Their revenue is based on local advertisement and network compensation (a fee received from a network in exchange for airing the network's programs and advertisements).

The local market boundaries are drawn by the FCC.

When a station is not affiliated, i.e., does not have contractual relations to exchange airtime with programs and money with a particular network, that station is called independent.

TV networks are not bound to a specific local area. The best-known networks are operating nation-wide. The less-known ones are regional, or alliances of groups of stations. The major three networks have traditionally been NBC (National Broadcasting Company), CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System), and ABC (American Broadcasting Company). FOX Network joined the ranks in the late 1990s. Others include UPN (United Paramount Network), PAX (PAX Network), and WB (Warner Brothers Network). Networks have so-called "affiliate" stations in multiple local areas which carry their programs and advertisements. In many cases, the affiliation is an exclusive contract between a network and a station. As a result, if a station is an NBC affiliate, the station would not air programs from ABC, CBS or other networks. The major exception to this rule occurs in local markets in which there are only a very small number of stations. When a station has affiliation with two networks, one would be primary affiliation and the other would be secondary affiliation. When a station has a secondary affiliation with a network, it means that the programs supplied by that network would be rescheduled (such as to late at night) rather than shown as they are received from the network.

The networks produce their own programs, and may purchase programs from independent production companies.

Although stations and networks are very different entities in regulatory terms, one company may own multiple stations and a network at the same time, and make those stations affiliates of its own network. This rather common practice results in many 'O&O' (owned and operated) stations.

Oftentimes, multiple stations are owned by a company which does not own any network. The company is called "station group owner."

Some stations act as a supplier of original contents. By distributing the programs via satellite to stations and cable operators[?] in other areas, the stations can reach a wider audience beyond their local market. Those stations are called "super stations."

Non-Commercial TV

Non-commercial television is a visible player in the United States. It is characterized by the relative independence from such governmental branches as Congress and the Administration. It is designed, and more or less functioning, as a "civic" than rather than as a "governmental" operation.

There are many non-commercial stations throughout the country, and some are "member stations" of PBS, Public Broadcasting Service—a non-commercial equivalent of networks.

The major differences between commercial and noncommercial TV have to do with programming and revenue sources. Non-commercial TV stations, some educational, some religious, may broadcast the kind of programs that commercial stations are less likely to air. The stations are technically prohibited from airing advertisements, and therefore there is supposedly no advertisement revenue. However, the stations may have corporate "underwriters," and announcements of underwriters may be aired. These messages may not promote specific product or service to the viewers. Another source of income is donations from viewers.

In reality, however, non-commercial broadcasting may or may not be distinctively different from its commercial counterparts from an uninformed viewer's eyes. The programs are sometimes very similar to some of the programs on cable networks such as A&E and Discovery. The underwriter's messages may look indistinguishable from advertisements.

PBS is a network which commissions production of programs by member stations. Its revenue comes from member stations' membership fees, underwriters, and funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

CPB is another key player in the realm of non-commercial broadcasting. CPB receives funding from Congress, and distributes the money to PBS and NPR (National Public Radio, a non-commercial network for radio stations.)

Low-Power TV


Constitutional Guarantees Freedom of the press in the United States is guaranteed under the federal constitution.

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