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television network A television network or broadcaster is a telecommunications network for distribution of television program content, where a central operation provides programming to many television stations or pay television providers. Until the mid-1980s, televi ...
s, the Big Three are the three major traditional commercial broadcast television networks in the
United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, 326 India ...
: ABC (the American Broadcasting Company),
CBS CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) is an American commercial broadcast television and radio network owned by ViacomCBS through its CBS Entertainment Group division. The network is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City, with major p ...

CBS
(the Columbia Broadcasting System), and
NBC The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial radio and television network owned by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, ...
(the National Broadcasting Company). The Big Three networks dominated American television until the 1990s, and they are still considered major U.S. broadcast companies.


Backgrounds

The National Broadcasting Company and Columbia Broadcasting System were both founded as
radio network There are two types of radio network currently in use around the world: the one-to-many (simplex communication) broadcast network commonly used for public information and mass-media entertainment, and the two-way radio (duplex communication) type us ...
s in the 1920s, with NBC eventually encompassing two national radio networks, the prestige
Red Network The National Broadcasting Company's NBC Radio Network (known as the NBC Red Network prior to 1942) was an American commercial radio network which was in operation from 1926 through 2004. Along with the NBC Blue Network it was one of the first two ...
and the lower-profile
Blue Network The Blue Network (previously the NBC Blue Network) was the on-air name of a now defunct American radio network, which broadcast from 1927 through 1945. Beginning as one of the two radio networks owned by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), t ...
. They gradually began experimental
television station A television station is a set of equipment managed by a business, organisation or other entity, such as an amateur television (ATV) operator, that transmits video content and audio content via radio waves directly from a transmitter on the earth ...
s in the 1930s, with commercial broadcasts being allowed by the
Federal Communications Commission The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government that regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable across the United States. The FCC maintains jurisdiction over the ...
on July 1, 1941. In 1943, the
U.S. government The federal government of the United States (U.S. federal government) is the national government of the United States, a federal republic in North America, composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories and ...
determined that NBC's two-network setup was anticompetitive and forced it to spin off one of the networks; NBC chose to sell the Blue Network operations, which became the American Broadcasting Company. All three networks began regular, commercial television broadcasts in the 1940s. NBC and CBS began commercial operations in 1941, followed by ABC in 1948. A smaller fourth network, the
DuMont Television Network The DuMont Television Network (also known as the DuMont Network, simply DuMont/Du Mont, or (incorrectly) Dumont ) was one of America's pioneer commercial television networks, rivalling NBC and CBS for the distinction of being first overall in the ...
, launched in 1944. The three networks originally controlled only a few local television stations, but they swiftly
affiliated Affiliation or affiliate may refer to: * Affiliate (commerce), a legal form of entity relationship used in Business Law * Affiliation (family law), a legal form of family relationship * Affiliate marketing * Affiliate network or affiliation platfor ...
with other stations to cover almost the entire United States by the late 1950s. Several of these stations affiliated with all three major networks and DuMont, or some combination of the four, in
markets Market may refer to: *Market (economics) *Market economy *Marketplace, a physical marketplace or public market Geography *Märket, an island shared by Finland and Sweden Art, entertainment, and media Films *''Market'' (1965 film), 1965 South K ...
where only one or two television stations operated in the early years of commercial television; this resulted in several network shows, often those with lower national viewership, receiving scattershot market clearances, since in addition to maintaining limited broadcast schedules early on, affiliates that shoehorned programming from multiple networks had to also make room for locally produced content. As other stations signed on in larger cities, ABC, NBC, and CBS were eventually able to carry at least a sizeable portion of their programming on one station. Of the four original networks, only DuMont did not have a corresponding radio network. Ironically, the fourth major radio network of the era, the
Mutual Broadcasting System The Mutual Broadcasting System (commonly referred to simply as Mutual; sometimes referred to as MBS, Mutual Radio or the Mutual Radio Network) was an American commercial radio network in operation from 1934 to 1999. In the golden age of U.S. radio ...
, had briefly explored the idea of launching a TV network, with consideration being made to have film studio
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (also known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, initialized as MGM; often referred to as Metro; common metonym: the Lion or Leo) is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distributio ...
supply programming talent. In fact, Bamberger Broadcasting's
WOR-TV WWOR-TV, virtual channel 9 (UHF digital channel 25), is the flagship station of the MyNetworkTV programming service, licensed to Secaucus, New Jersey, United States and serving the New York City television market. The station is owned by the Fox ...
& WOIC (both stations affiliated with Mutual, the latter a Washington, D.C., video outlet) maintained letterhead with "Mutual Television" decorating their identifications. Beyond this, there is no confirmation, however, that a cooperative video service was ever seriously considered, although Mutual's component stations launched television outlets in their home cities. Some of Mutual's component stations bought a stake in the
Overmyer Network The Overmyer Network/United Network was a television network. It was intended to be a fourth national commercial network in the United States, competing with the Big Three television networks. The network was founded by self-made millionaire Dan ...
in 1967, but other than a single late-night talk show, ''
The Las Vegas Show ''The Las Vegas Show'' was an American late night television program broadcast in May 1967 on the short-lived United Network. The two-hour-long talk show, hosted by comedian Bill Dana, was supposed to be the flagship program of a planned fourth tel ...
'', which lasted one month, that network never made it to its full launch.


Network competition


Early era

For most of the history of television in the United States, the Big Three dominated, controlling the vast majority of television broadcasting. DuMont ceased regular programming in 1955; the
NTA Film Network The NTA Film Network was an early American television network founded by Ely Landau in 1956. The network was not a full-time television network like CBS, NBC, or ABC. Rather, it operated on a part-time basis, broadcasting films and several first- ...
, unusual in that its programming, all pre-recorded, was distributed by mail instead of through communications wires, signed on in 1956 and lasted until 1961. From 1961, and lasting until the early 1990s, there were only three major networks. Every hit series appearing in the Nielsen top 20 television programs and every successful commercial network telecast of a major
feature film A feature film, or feature-length film, is a narrative film (motion picture or "movie") with a running time long enough to be considered the principal or sole presentation in a commercial entertainment program. The term ''feature film'' originall ...
was aired by one of the Big Three networks. There were attempts by other companies, such as the
Overmyer Network The Overmyer Network/United Network was a television network. It was intended to be a fourth national commercial network in the United States, competing with the Big Three television networks. The network was founded by self-made millionaire Dan ...
, to enter the television medium, but all of these ventures lasted only for brief periods. The prohibitive cost of starting a
broadcast network A terrestrial network (or broadcast network in the United States) is a group of radio stations, television stations, or other electronic media outlets, that form an agreement to air, or broadcast, content from a centralized source. For example, (U ...
, coupled with the difficulty of competing with the massive distribution of the Big Three networks, and the infancy and complexities of UHF broadcasting before
cable television Cable television is a system of delivering television programming to consumers via radio frequency (RF) signals transmitted through coaxial cables, or in more recent systems, light pulses through fibre-optic cables. This contrasts with broadcas ...
became commonplace in the 1980s, led to the downfall of almost all new network ventures; most media markets were limited to no more than three VHF channels, and even after the
All-Channel Receiver Act The All-Channel Receiver Act of 1962 (ACRA) (), commonly known as the All-Channels Act, was passed by the United States Congress in 1961, to allow the Federal Communications Commission to require that all television set manufacturers must include ...
was passed in 1961, the VHF stations were far more efficient and their signals could reach a greater range than their UHF counterparts . As the Big Three networks had already affiliated with most of the more desirable VHF stations, and the full-service approach of the time meant that the networks programmed almost the entire broadcast day, leaving little room for even off-prime-time programming, that left any upstart network to settle for the inferior UHF outlets. Those networks that could have had the resources to compete, such as
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering , making it the world's second-largest country by total ...

Canada
's
CTV Television Network The CTV Television Network (commonly known as CTV) is a Canadian English-language terrestrial television network launched in 1961. CTV was acquired by BCE Inc. in 2000, and it is now a division of the Bell Media subsidiary of BCE. CTV is Canada's ...
, which briefly attempted an American expansion via WNYB (channel 26 in
Buffalo, New York Buffalo is the second-largest city in the U.S. state of New York and the largest city in Western New York. 's census estimates, the city proper population was 255,284. The city is the county seat of Erie County and serves as a major gateway for ...
, now a religious station), were forced off the air through legal threats.


Fox

A viable
fourth television network In American television terminology, a fourth network is a reference to a fourth broadcast (over-the-air) television network, as opposed to the Big Three television networks that dominated U.S. television from the 1950s to the 1990s: ABC, CBS and N ...
in the commercial sense would not again become competitive with the Big Three until Fox was founded in October 1986 from some of the assets and remnants of the DuMont network, which had become
Metromedia Metromedia (also often MetroMedia) was an American media company that owned radio and television stations in the United States from 1956 to 1986 and controlled Orion Pictures from 1988 to 1997. Metromedia was established in 1956 after the DuMont T ...
after DuMont folded, and were acquired by
News Corporation The original incarnation of News Corporation (abbreviated News Corp.) was an American multinational mass media corporation operated and owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch and headquartered in New York City. Prior to its split in 2013, it was ...
earlier in 1986. Fox, which began as a distant fourth network, leapfrogged into major network status in 1994 after
must-carry In cable television, governments apply a must-carry regulation stating that locally licensed television stations must be carried on a cable provider's system. North America Canada Under current CRTC regulations, the lowest tier of service on all ...
rules took effect; the rules allowed Fox affiliates to force their way onto cable lineups, and the network's affiliation deal with
New World Communications New World Pictures (also known as New World Entertainment and New World Communications Group, Inc.) was an American independent production, distribution and (in its final years as an autonomous entity) multimedia company. It was founded in 1970 b ...
, which it later purchased in 1996, and the acquisition of
National Football League The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major ...
broadcast rights
broadcast rights
brought a wave of new Fox affiliates. Since its founding, Fox has surpassed ABC and NBC in the ratings during the early primetime hours in which it competes against the longer established networks, becoming the second most-watched network behind CBS during the
2000s File:2000s decade montage3.png, From left, clockwise: The World Trade Center on fire and the Statue of Liberty during the 9/11 attacks in 2001; the euro enters into European currency in 2002; a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled during the Iraq ...
. During the 2007–08 season, Fox was the highest-rated of the major broadcast networks, as well as the first non-Big Three network to reach first place, but it lost the spot in the 2008–09 season and dropped to a close second. From 2004 to 2012, Fox also dominated U.S. television in the lucrative and viewer-rich 18-49 demographics, in large part due to the success of its NFL coverage and its top rated prime time program, ''
American Idol ''American Idol'' is an American singing competition television series created by Simon Fuller, produced by Fremantle North America and 19 Entertainment, and distributed by Fremantle North America. It initially aired on Fox from June 11, 2002, ...
''. Given the network's success in its prime time and
sports Sport pertains to any form of competitive physical activity or game that aims to use, maintain or improve physical ability and skills while providing enjoyment to participants and, in some cases, entertainment to spectators. Sports can, throu ...
offerings, it has been occasionally included with the Big Three, in which case the phrase "Big Four" is used. Although Fox has firmly established itself as the nation's fourth major network with its ratings success, it is not considered part of the Big Three. Among Fox's differences with the Big Three is its reduced weekday programming. It lacks national
morning Morning is the period from sunrise to noon. There are no exact times for when morning begins (also true for evening and night) because it can vary according to one's lifestyle and the hours of daylight at each time of year. However, morning stric ...
and evening news programs; Fox has a news division consisting of
cable Cable may refer to: Mechanical * Nautical cable, an assembly of three or more ropes woven against the weave of the ropes, rendering it virtually waterproof * Wire rope, a type of rope which consists of several strands of metal wire laid into a hel ...
and
radio Radio is the technology of signaling and communicating using radio waves. Radio waves are electromagnetic waves of frequency between 30 hertz (Hz) and 300 gigahertz (GHz). They are generated by an electronic device called a transmitte ...
operations, but does not provide content for the broadcast television network other than a weekly news analysis program, limited special breaking news reports and an affiliate news service for its stations called Fox News Edge. Fox does not feature any daytime programming, a third hour of
primetime The prime time or the peak time is the block of broadcast programming taking place during the middle of the evening for a television show. It is more targeted towards both men and women. It is used by the major television networks to broadcast th ...
,
late-night talk show A late-night talk show is a genre of talk show popular in the United States, where the format originated. It is generally structured around humorous monologues about the day's news, guest interviews, comedy sketches and music performances. It i ...
s, and Saturday morning children's programming. Fox had an extensive lineup of children's programs throughout the 1990s called
Fox Kids Fox Kids (originally known as Fox Children's Network and later as the Fox Kids Network; stylized as FOX KIDS) is a former children's programming block and branding for a slate of international children's television channels. Originally a joint ven ...
, but sold the division to
The Walt Disney Company The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Disney (), is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California. Disney was originally founded o ...
in 2001 as part of its sale of cable network
Fox Family Channel The American cable and satellite television network that is now known as Freeform was originally launched as the CBN Satellite Service on April 29, 1977, and has gone through several different owners (and six different name changes) during its hist ...
, after which
4Kids Entertainment 4Kids Entertainment, Inc. (formerly known as Leisure Concepts, Inc. and later known as 4Licensing Corporation) was an American licensing company. The company was previously also a film and television production company that English-dubbed Japane ...
supplied the network's children's lineup until 2008. Outside prime time, Fox affiliates either produce their own programming or run syndicated shows. Fox is also the only one of the four major networks to include a regular block of
infomercial An infomercial is a form of television commercial that resembles regular TV programming yet is intended to promote or sell a product, service or idea. It generally includes a toll-free telephone number or website. Most often used as a form of direc ...
s on its lineup, via the Weekend Marketplace Saturday morning block.


Fifth networks

Other networks eventually launched in an attempt to compete with the Big Three as well as Fox, although these "netlets" have been unable to ascend to the same level of success.
The WB The WB Television Network (commonly shortened to The WB, standing for Warner Bros.) was an American television network first launched on broadcast television on January 11, 1995, as a joint venture between the Warner Bros. Entertainment divisio ...
and
UPN The United Paramount Network (UPN) was an American broadcast television network that launched on January 16, 1995. The network was originally owned by Chris-Craft Industries' United Television; Viacom (through its Paramount Television unit, which ...
launched in 1995; like Fox, they both added nights of prime time programming over the course of a few years, although The WB was the only one that aired any on weekends, carrying a Sunday night lineup for all but its first half-season on the air. Both networks mainly aired only prime time and children's programming. The latter was the only form of weekday daytime programming offered by either one, although UPN discontinued its children's lineup in 2003 at the conclusion of a content deal with Disney, and UPN aired sports programming via the short-lived XFL, as well as '' WWF SmackDown!''. While The WB and UPN each had a handful of popular series during their existences, they struggled for overall viewership and financial losses. This led their respective parent companies,
Time Warner Warner Media, LLC, doing business as WarnerMedia, is an American multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate corporation owned by AT&T and headquartered in New York City, United States. It was originally formed in 1990 by Steve Ross ...
and
CBS Corporation The second incarnation of CBS Corporation (the first being a short-lived rename of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation) was an American multinational media conglomerate with interests primarily in commercial broadcasting, publishing, and tele ...
, to shut them down in 2006 to jointly launch
The CW The CW Television Network (commonly referred to as simply The CW) is an American English-language free-to-air television network that is operated by The CW Network, LLC, a limited liability joint venture between the CBS Entertainment Group un ...

The CW
, which initially featured a mix of programs from both predecessors, as well as some newer shows after the launch. Fox launched
MyNetworkTV MyNetworkTV (unofficially abbreviated as MyTV, MyNet, MNT or MNTV; stylized as myNetworkTV on the network's website and mynetworkTV in the network's logo) is an American television syndication service and former television network owned by Fox Co ...
at the same time as The CW, with a lineup of English language
telenovela A telenovela is a type of a limited-run television serial drama or soap opera produced primarily in Latin America. The word combines ''tele'' (for "television") and ''novela'' (meaning "novel"). Similar genres around the world include teleserye ( ...
s; it later shifted toward unscripted programs and movies, though its persistent lack of ratings success led News Corporation to convert it into a syndication service, relying on a lineup of acquired series, in 2009.


PBS

Likewise, the
Public Broadcasting Service The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is an American public broadcaster and television program distributor. It is a nonprofit organization and the most prominent provider of educational television programming to public television stations i ...
(PBS), which has existed since 1970, is not considered part of the "big three" networks. PBS operates as a
noncommercial A non-commercial (also spelled noncommercial) activity is an activity that does not, in some sense, involve commerce, at least relative to similar activities that do have a commercial objective or emphasis. For example, advertising-free community ...
service with a much different distribution model compared to the major networks; its member stations in essence own the network rather than the traditional mode of a network owning some of its stations and affiliating with additional stations owned by other broadcasters, and it maintains memberships with more than one educational station in a few markets.


Market share

Today, the "Big Three" control only a relatively small portion of the broadcasting market in the United States; by 2005, its share was estimated at a combined 32%. The Big Three's market share has dwindled considerably as a result of growing competition from other broadcast networks such as Fox, The CW, and MyNetworkTV, and more recently Spanish language networks such as
Univision Univision () is an American Spanish-language free-to-air television network owned by Univision Communications. It is the United States' largest provider of Spanish-language content. The network's programming is aimed at the Latino public and inc ...
and
Telemundo Telemundo (; formerly NetSpan) is an American Spanish-language terrestrial television network owned by NBCUniversal Telemundo Enterprises, a division of NBCUniversal, which in turn is owned by Comcast. It provides content nationally with programm ...
, as well as national cable and satellite channels such as TNT,
ESPN ESPN (originally an initialism for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network) is an American multinational basic cable sports channel owned by ESPN Inc., owned jointly by The Walt Disney Company (80%) and Hearst Communications (20%). The com ...

ESPN
, and AMC, and web channels such as
Netflix Netflix, Inc. is an American content platform and production company headquartered in Los Gatos, California. Netflix was founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph in Scotts Valley, California. The company's primary business is a subscr ...
.


Big Three affiliate stations

The following is a list of television stations in the United States that have had primary network affiliations, at one point or another, with all of ABC, CBS, or NBC.


See also

*
Lists of ABC television affiliates For lists of affiliates of the U.S. American Broadcasting Company (ABC) television network, see: *List of ABC television affiliates (by U.S. state) *List of ABC television affiliates (table) See also *List of CBS television affiliates (by U.S. st ...
*
Lists of NBC television affiliates The following articles contain lists of NBC television affiliates: *List of NBC television affiliates (by U.S. state) *List of NBC television affiliates (table) See also *List of ABC television affiliates (by U.S. state) *List of ABC television af ...
*
Lists of CBS television affiliates The following articles contain lists of affiliates of the CBS television network: *List of CBS television affiliates (by U.S. state) *List of CBS television affiliates (table) See also *List of ABC television affiliates (by U.S. state) *List of A ...
*
Cable television in the United States Cable television first became available in the United States in 1948. Data by SNL Kagan shows that about 58.4% of all American homes subscribe to basic cable television services. Most cable viewers in the U.S. reside in the suburbs and tend to be ...
*
Communications in the United States The primary regulator of communications in the United States is the Federal Communications Commission. It closely regulates all of the industries mentioned below with the exception of newspapers and the Internet service provider industry. Histor ...
*
Fourth television network In American television terminology, a fourth network is a reference to a fourth broadcast (over-the-air) television network, as opposed to the Big Three television networks that dominated U.S. television from the 1950s to the 1990s: ABC, CBS and N ...
*
High-definition television in the United States High-definition television (HDTV) in the United States was introduced in 1998 and has since become increasingly popular and dominant in the television market. Hundreds of HD channels are available in millions of homes and businesses both terrestrial ...
*
List of television stations in the United States The pages below contain lists of television stations in the U.S. by call sign. Historically, stations to the east of the Mississippi River were given call signs beginning with the letter ''W'', stations to the west ''K''. However, there are excepti ...
*
List of United States cable and satellite television networks The following is a list of pay television networks broadcasting or receivable in the United States, organized by broadcast area and genre. Some television providers use one or more channel slots for east/west feeds, high definition services, se ...
*
List of United States over-the-air television networks In the United States, for most of the history of broadcasting, there were only three or four major commercial national terrestrial networks. From 1946 to 1956, these were ABC, CBS, NBC and DuMont (though the Paramount Television Network had some ...
*
List of United States television markets This is a list of television media markets in the United States, with a total of 107,007,910 households. Network owned-and-operated stations and major PBS stations are highlighted in bold. See also * Big Three television networks * Cable tele ...
* Satellite television in the United States *
Television in the United States Television is one of the major mass media of the United States. , household ownership of television sets in the country is 96.7%, with approximately 114,200,000 American households owning at least one television set as of August 2013. The majori ...
* Television news in the United States *
United States cable news Cable news channels are television networks devoted to television news broadcasts, with the name deriving from the proliferation of such networks during the 1980s with the advent of cable television. In the United States, the first nationwide cabl ...


References

{{Television in the United States
Television in the United States For templates, please refer to: :United States television navigational boxes. {{Portal, Television, United States __NOGALLERY__ Television United States Television United States ...
Television terminology {{CatAutoTOC Terminology Terminology Television categories for deletion scanning ...