It's one of those things that you're always vaguely aware of, but never quite grok...
October 18, 2012 1:29 PM Subscribe
Explain broadcast television in Canada and the US to me like I'm five.
posted by Phire to technology (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've tried to do some basic research on this, but the Wikipedia articles and other resources all assume a starting level of knowledge that I seem to lack, so I thought I'd turn to the hive mind.
The full extent of my current and very limited understanding:
1. TV signals get sent out over the air by local stations.
2. You can pick up more or less channels via antenna depending on where you live.
3. If you want more channels you have to pay for cable or satellite.
4. Networks create the TV programming and then partner with local stations to distribute it.
Things that I am confused on:
1. Affiliate stations. In my current understanding, these are local TV stations that actually send out the signals. In the US, the call sign for affiliate stations seem to apply to both radio and TV - there might be a radio station for WUNC that carries programming from NPR, but then there's also a TV station for WUNC that carries PBS. Affiliate stations pay a subscription fee to the network whose programming they carry, and then send out the signals locally. They make their revenue from advertising, which is a mix of local ads and national ads from the network. Is this more or less correct?
1a. Does one affiliate station generally restrict itself to one major network, or do they carry multiple networks? How likely is it that you can pick up the same network from two different affiliate stations in a particular area?
1b. Is this call sign system also in place in Canada? I've only ever heard of CFRA radio, for example, and you wouldn't watch a TV show on CFRA. (Or would you?) If the call sign system in Canada does only apply to radio, does it only apply to AM radio or also FM? is there a similar naming system for local TV stations?
1c. Americans seem much more aware of the call signs of their local stations than Canadians do, and to them the station (WBEZ) seems to matter as much as the network (NPR). Why is that?
1d. Affiliate TV stations that carry network X get the same programming for network X at the same time everywhere, and only differ in advertising, right? But the same doesn't apply to radio, because I feel like I've heard Car Talk at different times on the weekend. Am I imagining this? Why the differential? Does it have to do with the purpose of radio being primarily information dissemination, and TV primarily being entertainment?
2. Over the air channels. Cable channels go up in nice numerical sequences. OTA channels (both in Canada and the US?) seem to follow bizarre and arbitrary numbering systems. For example, I get channels 7.1, 7.2, 9.1, and then it jumps up to 25.1. Or something. What is the rationale behind the numbering system? What determines which station gets which channel number? Is there any geographic consistency to this? I.e. if PBS is carried by a station that is 25.1 in North Carolina, is it also likely to be carried by a station that is 25.X on the west coast?
3. What determines what network programming you can get OTA? E.g. In Canada you might get CityTV and CTV and all that stuff OTA without cable (and it would go under one of the funny channel numbers like 6-4), but if you want YTV you pretty much have to get cable. What's preventing OTA channels like CityTV and CTV from moving to cable-exclusive broadcasting so they can get subscription fees? Is it the advertising revenue from increased viewership from people who don't pay for TV? And if it is advertising revenue from increased viewership, why aren't all channels (barring, like, HBO) available OTA to get the maximum possible viewership?
3a. In the US it seems to be possible to pick up channels like the CW over the air, whereas in Canada it would definitely be part of a cable package no matter where you lived. Is this because content production happens in the US, and so they have more negotiating power when they go to Canadian stations since Canadian stations want them so badly?
I think that's everything I can think of, but I will follow up if I think of more. Please take me to school, AskMe. Andpleasedon'tlaughathowlittleIknow.