Broadcast programming is the practice of organising 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 time periods, 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 utilisation 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, however, 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 programmes together. Blocks are typically built around:
- Specific genres (for example, a block focusing specifically on sitcoms);
- Target audiences; or
- Other factors.
Blocks also allow these programmes 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 programmes. This can be done, primarily, by airing promos for the next programme near the end of the preceding programme, such as during its credits.
The first form of crossprogramming involves the interconnection, or crossover, 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 programme.
Counterprogramming efforts often involve scheduling a contrasting programme of a different genre or demographic, targeting viewers who may not be interested in the major programme. For example, 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 US 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 Colour 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 programme in a different period of the season to avoid competition altogether.
In film distribution, counterprogramming is a studio’s marketing strategy to distribute a film that appeals to audience demographics not targeted by another film or a non-film event.
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 viewers will watch it.
Public television uses this as a way of promoting serious but valuable content.
In hotswitching, the showers 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.
Stacking is a technique used to develop audience flow by grouping together shows with similar appeals to ‘sweep’ the viewer along from one show to the next.
Stripping, or strip programming, is the practice of running a single series in a consistent, daily time slot throughout the week, usually on weekdays.
In the US, the term is synonymous with syndicated programmes, often in reference to reruns of network programmes that originally aired on a weekly basis.
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.
Primetime programming can be stripped on occasion, primarily for telenovelas, as well as runs of game shows (such as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) promoted as being an event.
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.
A broadcaster may temporarily dedicate all or parts of its schedule over a period of time to a specific theme. A well-known instance of a themed lineup is Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week”.
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 programmes that relate to the holiday.
The practice can help to attract viewers interested in programming that reflects the season. In conjunction with festive programmes when relevant, a channel may also target viewers on vacation for holiday long weekends or common school breaks, by scheduling marathons of signature programmes and feature film franchises the channel holds rights to, or other themed programming events.
The US 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, in an effort to position itself as “a year-round destination for celebrations” (which 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 programme’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 pm, 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.