List of United States over-the-air television networks

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In the United States, for most of the history of broadcasting, there were only three or four major national broadcasting networks. From 1946-1956 these were ABC, CBS, NBC, and DuMont. From 1956-1986, the national networks were ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Today, more than 20 nationwide broadcasting networks exist. Other than the noncommercial PBS, the largest broadcast networks are the traditional Big Three Television Networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC). Many other large networks exist, however, notably Fox, MyNetworkTV, ION and The CW (formerly UPN and The WB). Fox has just a fraction of a percentage point fewer households reached than the Big Three, and is therefore often considered a peer to ABC, NBC, and CBS. Most media outlets now include Fox in what they refer to as the "Big Four" television networks.

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

  • Commercial broadcasting networks (which air English-language programming to a general audience). Example: CBS
  • Spanish-language broadcasting networks. Example: Univision
  • Educational and other non-commercial broadcasting networks (which air English- and some foreign-language programming, intended to be educational or otherwise of a sort not found on commercial television). Example: PBS
  • Religious broadcasting networks. Example: Daystar

Each network sends its signal to many local TV stations across the country. These local stations then air the "network feed," and millions of households 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.

There are an estimated 115.9 million television households in the United States as of the 2010-2011 TV season. [2]


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