Modern broadcasters use broadcast automation to regularly change the scheduling of their shows to build an audience for a new show, retain that audience, or compete with other broadcasters' shows. Most broadcast television shows are presented weekly in prime time or daily in other dayparts, though exceptions are not rare.
At a micro level, scheduling is the minute planning of the transmission; what to broadcast and when, ensuring an adequate or maximum utilization of airtime. Television scheduling strategies are employed to give shows the best possible chance of attracting and retaining an audience. They are used to deliver shows to audiences when they are most likely to want to watch them and deliver audiences to advertisers in the composition that makes their advertising most likely to be effective.
With the growth of digital platforms and services allowing non-linear, on-demand access to television content, this approach to broadcasting has since been referred to using the retronym linear (such as linear television and linear channels).
With the beginning of scheduled television in 1936, television programming was initially only concerned with filling a few hours each evening – the hours now known as prime time. Over time, though, television began to be seen during the daytime and late at night, as well on the weekends. As air time increased, so did the demand for new material. With the exception of sports television, variety shows became much more important in prime time.
Block programming is the practice of scheduling a group of complementary programs together. Blocks are typically built around specific genres (i.e. a block focusing specifically on sitcoms), target audiences, or other factors, with their programming often promoted collectively under blanket titles (such as ABC's "TGIF" lineup and NBC's "Must See TV").
Bridging is the practice of discouraging the audience from changing channels during the "junctions" between specific programs. This can be done, primarily, by airing promos for the next program near the end of the preceding program, such as during its credits, or reducing the length of the junction between two programs as much as possible (hot switching). The host of the next program may similarly make a brief appearance near the end of the preceding program (sometimes interacting directly with the host) to provide a preview; in news broadcasting, this is typically referred to as a "throw" or "toss".
A bridge was used by ABC between Roseanne and the December 1992 series premiere of The Jackie Thomas Show (which was co-created by Roseanne's Roseanne Arnold and Tom Arnold), where a scene of the Connor family watching the opening of the program seamlessly transitioned into the program itself, with no junction in between. ABC commissioned a minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings report, which showed that the majority of viewers from Roseanne had been retained during the premiere.
Owing to both programs' news comedy formats, the Comedy Central program The Daily Show used newscast-style toss segments to promote its new spin-off and lead-out, The Colbert Report, in which host Jon Stewart would engage in a comedic conversation with the latter's host, Stephen Colbert, via split-screen near the end of the show. This practice was deconstructed by the December 18, 2014, episode of The Daily Show, which used the segment to abruptly hot-switch into the series finale of The Colbert Report. At its conclusion, Colbert transitioned the show back to Stewart, who presented The Daily Show's traditional closing segment "Your Moment of Zen" (featuring an outtake of a toss segment).
In some cases, a channel may intentionally allow a program to overrun into the next half-hour timeslot rather than end exactly on the half-hour, in order to discourage viewers from "surfing" away at traditional junction periods (since they had missed the beginnings of programs on other channels already). This can, however, cause disruptions with recorders if they are not aware of the scheduling (typically, digital video recorders can be configured to automatically record for a set length of time before and after a schedule's given timeslot in program guide data to account for possible variances). For a period, TBS intentionally engaged in this practice under the branding "Turner Time", scheduling all programs at 5 and 35 minutes past the hour rather than exactly on the half hour. Rather than discourage viewers from tuning away, TBS promoted this practice as a ploy to attract viewers tuning away from other channels.
Crossprogramming involves the interconnection of two shows. This is achieved by extending a storyline over two episodes of two different shows.
Counterprogramming is the practice of deliberately scheduling programming to attract viewers away from another, major program. Counterprogramming efforts often involve scheduling a contrasting program of a different genre or demographic, targeting viewers who may not be interested in the major program (such as a sporting event, which typically draws a predominantly-male audience, against an awards show that attracts a predominantly-female audience). Despite frequently being among the top U.S. television broadcasts of all time, the Super Bowl has had a prominent history of being counterprogrammed in this manner. One of the most prominent examples of this practice was Fox's 1992 airing of a special live episode of In Living Color against the game's halftime show.
Counterprogramming can also involve direct competitors scheduled directly against each other. In some cases, broadcasters may attempt to adjust their schedules in order to avert attempts at counterprogramming, such as getting a slightly earlier time slot (in the hope that once viewers have become committed to a show they will not switch channels), or scheduling the competing program in a different period of the season to avoid competition altogether.
Dayparting is the practice of dividing the day into several parts, during each of which a different type of radio programming or television showing appropriate for that time is aired. Daytime television shows are most often geared toward a particular demographic, and what the target audience typically engages in at that time.
- Early morning news
- Early morning
- Late morning
- Daytime television
- Early fringe
- Lunchtime news
- Early afternoon
- Late afternoon
- Early evening
- Evening news
- Prime time
- Late-night news
- Late night television
- Graveyard slot
- Sign-off (closedown)
- Late fringe
- Post late-fringe
Hammocking is a technique used by broadcasters whereby an unpopular show is scheduled between two popular shows in the hope that audience flow will carry viewers into the less popular program. Public television uses this as a way of promoting serious but valuable content.
Stripping is the practice of running a single series in a consistent, daily time slot throughout the week, usually on weekdays. First-run daytime and syndicated programs, such as talk shows, court shows, game shows, and soap operas, are typically aired in a strip format,
Syndicated reruns of network programs that originally aired on a weekly basis are often aired as strips. Shows that are syndicated in this way generally have to have run for several seasons (the rule of thumb is usually 100 episodes) in order to have enough episodes to run without significant repeats.
In tent pole programming, the programmers bank on a well-known series having so much audience appeal that they can place two unknown series on either side, and it is the strength of the central show that will draw viewers to the two other shows.
Themed schedules are a common practice around major holidays—such as Valentine's Day, Halloween, and Christmas—where channels may air specials, films, and episodes of their existing programs that relate to the holiday. The practice can help to attract viewers interested in programming that reflects the season. In conjunction with festive programs when relevant, a channel may also target viewers on vacation for holiday long weekends or common school breaks, by scheduling marathons of signature programs and feature film franchises the channel holds rights to, or other themed programming events.
The U.S. basic cable networks Freeform (25 Days of Christmas, 31 Days of Halloween) and Hallmark Channel are known for broadcasting long-term holiday programming events. After experiencing success with holiday events such as Countdown to Christmas, Hallmark Channel adopted a strategy of dividing its programming into themed seasons year-round, which are typically accompanied by thematically-appropriate original movies and original series. This strategy is part of an effort to position the channel as "a year-round destination for celebrations", and is synergistic with Hallmark Cards' core greeting card and collectibles businesses.
A show's time slot or place in the schedule could be crucial to its success or failure (see tentpoling above).
A time slot can affect a program's overall audience; generally, earlier prime time slots have a stronger appeal towards family viewing and younger demographics, while later time slots, such as the 10:00 p.m. hour, generally appeal more towards older demographics. Some time slots, colloquially known as "graveyard slots" or "death slots", are prone to having smaller potential audiences (with one such example being Friday nights), or intense competition from high-rated series.
- Audience flow
- Broadcast clock
- Effects of time zones on North American broadcasting
- Electronic media
- Fall schedule
- Interstitial program
- Radio Computing Services - automated scheduling for radio stations
- Timeshift channel
- TV Guide
- TV listings
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