List of United States broadcast television networks

From Academic Kids

In the United States, for most of the history of broadcasting, there were only four major national broadcasting networks. From 1946-1956 these were ABC, CBS, NBC, and the DuMont Television Network. After that and until 1969, the national networks were ABC, CBS, NBC, and NET. After 1969 and until 1986, the four main national networks were ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS.

Today, more than 20 nation-wide broadcasting networks exist, although some of these are admittedly quite small. Other than PBS, which has the largest number of affiliates, the largest broadcast networks remain the traditional Big Three Television Networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). Many other large networks exist, however, notably Fox, UPN, and the WB.

Broadcast networks in the United States can be divided into four categories:

  • Commercial broadcasting networks (which air English-language programming to a general audience).
  • Educational (non-commercial) broadcasting networks (which air English-language programming to an audience for the purpose of learning).
  • Religious broadcasting networks.
  • Spanish-language broadcasting networks.

Each network sends its signal to many local TV stations across the country. These local stations then air the 'network feed', and 103,000,000 viewers across the country tune in. In the case of the largest networks, the signal is sent to over 200 TV stations. In the case of the smallest networks, the signal may be sent to just a dozen or fewer stations.

analog over-the-air television channels are numbered 2 through 69, and occupy the following frequencies:

  • 54-88 MHz (Channels 2-6) VHF
  • 174-216 MHz (Channels 7-13) VHF
  • 470-806 MHz (Channels 14-69) UHF

See list of local television stations in North and Central America.


Table of Broadcast Networks

All of the networks listed below operate a number of terrestrial television stations. In addition, several of these networks are additionally aired on cable and satellite services.

Television Network Founded % of U.S. Households Reached # of Households Viewable Type of Network # of full-power affiliates
PBS 1969 ~99.00 ~105,579,120 Educational 349
ABC 1946* 96.75 103,179,600 Commercial 229
NBC 1946* 97.17 103,624,370 Commercial 226
CBS 1946* 96.98 103,421,270 Commercial 215
UPN 1995 85.98 91,689,290 Commercial 208
Fox 1986 96.18 102,565,710 Commercial 203
The WB 1995 84.66 90,282,480 Commercial 177
PAX 1998 74.25 79,185,730 Commerc./Relig. 120
A1 2003 ~20.63 22,000,000 Commercial 72
UAT 2001 ~20.63 22,000,000 Commercial 60
TBN 1973 ~21.85 ~23,300,500 Religious 52
Cornerstone 1979** ~18.49 ~19,715,810 Religious 44
WHTV 1985**** ~16.81 ~17,923,460 Religious 40
Daystar 1982 ~15.13 ~16,131,120 Religious 36
Univision 1986 ~14.71 ~15,683,030 Commer, Spanish 35
FamilyNet ~9.24 ~9,857,910 Religious 22
Telemundo 1986 ~7.56 ~8,065,560 Commer, Spanish 18
TeleFutura 2002 ~5.46 ~5,825,130 Commer, Spanish 13
TLN 1973 ~3.78 ~4,032,780 Religious 9
Azteca 2001 ~3.36 ~3,584,690 Commer, Spanish 8
GLC 1982 ~2.52 ~2,688,850 Religious 6
3ABN 1984 Religious 2
OBN 2003 Commercial 38
UBN 1993*** Religious 0

(*) Although ABC, NBC and CBS were founded prior to 1946, those companies did not begin continuous over the air TV broadcasting until that year.

(**) Although founded in 1970, the Cornerstone Television Network did not begin even limited broadcasts until 1979.

(***) Though the company was founded prior to 1993, the Unity Broadcasting Network operated just one O&O station and had no affiliates. In 1993, the company added 3 additional low-power stations and became a "network".

(****) Date at which WHTV acquired two additional stations.

English-language American commercial over-the-air television networks

  • America One (a successor to Channel America) A small network comprised of 76 local stations, A1 airs many old films and a few original shows.
  • American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (formerly NBC Blue) The nation's third-largest commercial network, ABC has over 200 affiliate stations and airs original programming seven days a week.
  • NBC (originally National Broadcasting Company) (formerly NBC Red) The nation's largest commercial network, NBC has over 200 affiliate stations and airs original programming seven days a week.
  • CBS (originally Columbia Broadcasting System) The nation's second-largest commercial network, CBS has over 200 affiliate stations and airs original programming seven days a week. CBS's audience is composed primarily of older viewers.
  • Fox Broadcasting Company (Fox) The nation's fourth-largest commercial network, Fox has nearly 200 affiliate stations and airs original programming seven days a week. Fox broadcasts to a younger audience than the "Big Three".
  • Omni Broadcasting Network (OBN) A very small network composed of low-power TV stations in around 20 areas.
  • PAX Network (PAX) A mid-sized network which airs original family-oriented programming a few days a week. PAX's affiliates number roughly around 100.
  • The WB Television Network (WB) A mid-sized network, the WB airs original programming most of the week. It has around 150 affiliate stations, and broadcasts to a mainly teenaged audience.
  • Urban America Television (UATV) (a successor to the American Independent Network, AIN) A small network with 60 affiliate stations, UAT airs original programming mixed with old films.
  • UPN (originally Paramount Television Service and United Paramount Network) A mid-sized network, UPN broadcasts to a younger audience. The network has over 150 affiliate stations.

...additionally, several of the cable-oriented theme channels (e.g. music or shopping channels) have obtained broadcast clearances, usually on low-power stations, in many markets. Among these are Home Shopping Network or HSN, and ShopNBC.

The WB, UPN and PAX are sometimes called "netlets" because they do not currently have the affiliate reach of the larger networks. UATV and America-1 are even smaller networks, many of whose affiliates take their program offers out of pattern, which is to say they schedule them at their own convenience. Several of the religious broadcasting networks also have out-of-pattern clearance arrangement with their broadcast affiliates, notably FamilyNet, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and World Harvest Television. And, of course, the Public Broadcasting Service also allows its member stations to run their programs out of pattern.

Nicknames of major American networks are as follows:

  • ABC: "Alphabet network"
  • NBC: "Peacock network" (after the network's peacock logo)
  • CBS: "Tiffany network" or "Eye network" (for the network's high-toned reputation and eye logo, respectively)
  • WB: "Frog network" (after network mascot Michigan J. Frog)

Non-English language American commercial over-the-air television networks

American non-commercial television networks

Public/cultural/educational noncommercial

  • Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (the largest public broadcasting network, somewhat decentralized, in the U.S.) PBS also has 24-hour/7-day program feeds that some broadcast (both analog and digital) stations affiliate with, for some or all of their dayparts: PBS-X (which has Eastern and Pacific Time feeds, and was originally conceived as a cable channel for areas not served by PBS stations), PBS-XD (created for carriage on home satellite services, such as DirecTV and Dish Network, with primetime programming largely delayed by one day so as not to compete too directly with local PBS affiliates), PBS YOU or "Your Own University" (devoted largely to adult education, crafts, and public-affairs programming), PBS KIDS (devoted to PBS's very popular children's programming), and PBS DT2, PBS's HDTV feed of high-definition and letterboxed standard-definition programming.
  • Annenberg/CPB Channel A 24-hour/7-day feed of mostly adult-educational programming that is offered to broadcast stations and cable systems for carriage; many of the broadcast affiliates play its programming in overnights. It shares some programming with PBS YOU
  • Deutsche Welle (DW TV) A German noncommercial television service which provides some English-language news programming to public broadcasting stations, and whose programming feed can be seen on a small number of independent public-broadcasting stations for part of their broadcast day.


Defunct American television networks

  • Overmyer Network - commercial network, 1967; also the United Network, not to be confused with UPN.
  • Channel America - first commercial network intentionally made up of low-power stations, a model for Pax and AIN/UATV, and the predecessor of America One.

See also

nl:Lijst van televisiekanalen in Verenigde Staten de:Liste der Fernsehprogramme in den USA


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