Television is one of the major mass media of the United States. There are three basic types of television in the United States: broadcast, or “over-the-air” television, which is freely available to anyone with a TV in the broadcast area, cable television, and satellite television, both of which require a subscription to receive.
The three major commercial television networks in the U.S. are the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), and the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The three privately owned networks controlled 90 percent of the TV market from the 1950s to the 1970s. In the 1980s pay cable TV transmitted by satellite came into being and by 1994, almost 60 percent of American households had subscribed to cable TV.
In the meantime, a fourth major commercial network, Fox, has come into being and challenged the big three networks. Several local TV stations have switched their affiliation from one of the big three to Fox. Two more national networks — WB and UPN — have also come along, and the number of cable television channels continues to expand.
There are 335 public television stations across the United States, each of which is independent and serves its community’s interests. But the stations are united by such national entities as the Public Broadcasting Service, which supplies programming. American taxpayers provide partial funding for public television.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is an independent government agency regulates television broadcasting.