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What Is TV Airtime?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Television (TV) airtime is time during a television broadcast that can be allotted to original programming, syndicated content, advertising, emergency announcements, and other topics. Television networks and stations have their own TV airtime schedules to determine what should be aired and when. A number of considerations can play a role in television scheduling, ranging from content restrictions to wanting to capitalize on certain audiences. Schedules are usually available in advance to allow viewers to make plans for television programs they want to see.

During the hours a television station broadcasts, it needs to have content continuously scheduled to avoid dead air, where nothing runs and viewers receive static at home. Some stations run 24 hours and must provide constant content, while others may shut down in the early hours of the morning. The TV airtime schedule can include a broad mixture of items, depending on the type of content the station wants to run. Scheduling must consider who is viewing and when, and which kinds of audiences the station plans to reach.

In some regions, restrictions on type of content limit the times when a station can broadcast explicit content, which may be relegated to late hours of the schedule. The prime time hours in the evening are often taken up with major television shows, although a station may interrupt for critical news broadcasts and other materials. As stations structure their schedules, they may also create advertising slots. Advertisers can buy TV airtime to run promotions for their products.

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Costs for advertising slots depend on the length of the slot, the time, and other factors. Airing during prime time can be expensive, especially during a season finale or opener when viewers will turn out in record numbers for the broadcast. Other slots are less expensive and less competitive, and may allow advertisers to reach television audiences for a fraction of the costs. Major sporting events and other significant programming can cause a dramatic increase in the cost of TV airtime.

Regional laws may require stations to break into their TV airtime for emergency broadcasts. These typically contain critical health and safety information that the government wants to distribute to as many people as possible. Other stations may interrupt regular programming for significant press conferences, breaking news, and major political events, as their customers may expect coverage. In the United States, for example, multiple stations air the annual State of the Union address for the benefit of audiences.

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