Broadcast programming is the practice of organizing and/or ordering (scheduling) of broadcast media shows, typically radio and television, in a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or season-long schedule. 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 day time 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. Blocks also allow these programs to be promoted together under blanket brands (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.
The host of the next program may similarly make a brief appearance near the end of the preceding program in order to preview its contents; in news broadcasting, this is typically referred to as a "throw" or "toss". Owing to both programs' news comedy formats, the Comedy Central program The Daily Show similarly featured toss segments to promote its 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.
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 retain viewers by discouraging 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 consistently and intentionally engaged in this practice under the name "Turner Time", scheduling all programs at 5 and 35 minutes past the hour (rather than exactly on the half hour. This also served to attract viewers tuning away from shows that had already started on another channel, so that they could easily catch the next program due to the offset scheduling.
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 offering television shows to attract an audience from another television station airing a major event. It is also referred when programmers offer something different from the rival’s show as an alternative, to increase the audience size, and is used when a time period is filled with a show whose appeal is different from the opponent show because it is a different genre or appeals to a different demographic.
Dayparting is the practice of dividing the day into several parts, during each of which a different type of radio programming or television showming 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 viewers will watch it. Public television uses this as a way of promoting serious but valuable content.
In hotswitching, the showmers eliminate any sort of commercial break when one show ends and another begins; this immediately hooks the audience into watching the next show without a chance to change the television channel between shows.
Season splitting is the practice of broadcasting one season of a series in two parts, with a scheduled break in between. This allows for the second half of the season to be programmed strategically separately from the first.
Spoiling tactics are used to grab audience share, when broadcasters have similar products going head to head. In such cases broadcasters may jostle in getting a slightly earlier airing date or time, in the hope that once viewers have become committed to a show they will not switch channels.
Stripping is running a syndicated television series every day of the week. It is commonly restricted to describing the airing of shows which were weekly in their first run; The West Wing could be stripped, but not Jeopardy!, as the latter is already a daily show. 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 existing series 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, by scheduling marathons of signature programs and feature films, or other themed programming events.
In the U.S., channels such as 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, in an effort to position itself as "a year-round destination for celebrations"..
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 younger audiences and family viewing, while later time slots, such as 10:00 p.m., generally appeal more towards older demographics. Some time slots, colloquially known as "graveyard slots", are prone to lower viewership due to smaller potential audiences (particularly Friday nights), or intense competition from high-rated series.
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