Television Broadcasting, Station Operations and

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The various operations of a television station revolve around the manufacturing and sale of a product, much like any industry; and like any industry, the various departments of the station work both independently and cooperatively to meet its production goals. In the case of the television station, however, that product is the programming airtime that is consumed by the public, and the sale of that product is advertising time. Therefore, the various departments of the television station can be categorized according to their tasks of creating the product, advertising the product, transmitting the product, selling the product, and managing the revenue from the product.

General Organization of a Television Station

The organization of a television station depends on the size of the market in which it operates and the type of ownership under which it exists. For example, small-market television stations may only retain skeleton crews for each department whereas large-market stations may have as many as fifty employees on the payroll for a given department. In addition, larger stations may necessitate the division of departments into smaller branches in order to increase efficiency. Regarding ownership, stations under multiple ownership often have a higher-level organizational pyramid consisting of a manager that oversees the operations of all owned stations, managers that oversee regions of stations, and so on. However, the typical television station will contain the following seven operations: general administration, sales, programming, production, news, advertising, and engineering.

General Administration

General administration operations manage and distribute the revenue received from station sales of advertising time. This includes the appropriation of available funds to each department as well as the billing of supplies and services both inter-departmentally and externally to clients and advertising agencies. In short, the general administrative function supports and maintains the operations of the entire station.

Under the general administration division are the general manager or station manager, the business manager, the accountants, the secretaries, and other administrative and office staff. These employees serve various duties such as the payment of wages and salaries, membership fees and subscriptions for industry information, license and other government-imposed fees, taxes, insurance, legal and auditing fees, and contributions to charitable organizations. In addition, maintenance of the building and of equipment, utilities, office supplies, computers, station automobiles, and other administrative services and supplies are also provided by the general administrative department. It is not surprising, then, that this department consumes one-third of the total operating expenses of a station, although only about 13 percent of the total staff may be in administration.


The sales department at a television station is responsible for generating the revenue for the station to survive. A general sales manager leads a team that is comprised of a national/regional sales manager, a local sales manager, account executives, and at times, a traffic manager. In most cases, the national/regional sales manager will be a liaison from an outside organization that wins advertising contracts from regional and national advertisers. The local sales manager, then, is charged with securing advertising accounts with local businesses and organizations. A staff of account executives helps the local sales manager sell advertising time to local businesses employing solicitation tactics similar to other sales businesses. However, the salespeople of television must negotiate advertising sales using a rate card, a definitive list of airtime costs during the various time periods and television programs. Furthermore, the television account executive can also offer to create the advertisement for a client if the client so chooses, in which case the sales department cooperates with the production and programming departments for this venture.

A linking figure between the sales department and the programming department is traffic, which has traditionally fallen under programming but is increasingly becoming an arm of sales. Traffic prepares the daily log, which details to the second every program, promotional spot, and commercial that will air each day. Responsibilities for this position include staying well informed of new advertising accounts, ensuring that all slated commercials are available to air, and monitoring proposed programming schedules for commercial placement. For example, the traffic manager may want to ensure that two commercials advertising a similar product are not placed back-to-back or that a single commercial is not run twice in the same commercial block. A final duty of the traffic department is to maintain a careful record of every commercial and promotional spot that has run so that the accounting and sales departments can cooperate in the proper billing of the client.

In order to market a station effectively, the sales department must be intimately familiar with the ratings, viewer numbers, and the types of viewers that are watching during various programming periods. Therefore, the department must subscribe to ratings services and perform market research. In addition, the sales personnel, who account for about 17 percent of the total staff, receive wages, salaries, or commissions for every contract won, as well as expense accounts and benefits. However, the total cost of this department with respect to the total operating budget of a station is around 9 percent, a small price to pay considering that sales generates more than 95 percent of the revenue of a station.


The programming department, in conjunction with the production and news departments, acquires and schedules the product that the audience consumes, which in turn allows the sales department to create revenue, which in turn allows the general administration department to facilitate station operations. The programming department is responsible for filling the entire broadcast day with programming and is therefore saddled with arguably the most challenging job in television. Consequently, this department also works closely with the traffic department in structuring the daily programming schedule.

Programming is second only to general administration in terms of operating expenses. The department, if its station is affiliated with a network, needs almost 25 percent of the total budget of the station to function. However, an independent station may give as much as half of its total operating budget to the acquisition of programs.

Programming may consist of a program director, a videotape librarian, a ratings researcher, an acquisitions staff, a continuity standards staff, and on-camera personalities for use in locally originated programs. The program director, helped by the acquisitions personnel, may obtain the majority of the programming of a station from syndicators and other program suppliers. If a station is affiliated with a major television network, then programming will have the luxury of choosing how much programming it will schedule from the network. In a larger market, viewership research may be conducted to help the program director select a programming plan that will attract a substantial audience. Community feedback also aids in planning decisions. However, all decisions concerning program acquisition are ultimately controlled by the amount of revenue gained from sales and the resulting budget allotted the programming division.

Another responsibility of programming besides program acquisition is program creation. Many stations produce public-affairs programming in order to meet their public-interest obligations. The programming department is usually given the job of preparing and producing these programs. Therefore, on-camera talent may be employed to create these public-affairs programs. In addition, the programming department may also be solicited to help the sales department create an advertisement for a client. In this situation, the continuity standards staff may write the advertising script, revise a script given to the station by a client or advertising agency, and/or review a script against government and station standards and policies. However, in any case where programming must produce a program, the production department is there to bring the program to its culmination.


The production department works closely with the programming, news, engineering, and sales divisions. Its sole responsibility is to produce the various programs, be they news packages, newscasts, public-affairs programs, station promotional spots, client commercials, or other productions that a station may require. Because of its close relationship with the other departments, much of the production department's costs are absorbed into the other departments. As a result, it is difficult to say how much production really costs a station, although production in conjunction with programming takes approximately 31 percent of the total budget and production in conjunction with news takes approximately 12 percent.

Production usually consists of a production manager, producers, directors, and studio and remote crews. The studio crews operate the cameras, the audio board, the videotape recorders, the TelePrompTer, the video switcher, the computer or character generator, and any other equipment needed to complete the in-house production. In contrast, the remote crews operate the ENG (electronic newsgathering) or more sophisticated EFP (electronic field production) cameras and other equipment to produce programs or packages outside the television studio. Once footage is obtained, editors edit the programs together and insert any computer graphics and audio tracks until the product is satisfactorily completed. Then, the program may be given to the programming department to review and schedule, and then to the traffic manager to enter into a daily log. In the case of news, programs are prescheduled and the production is completed via live broadcast. In the case of any production, the engineering crew monitors the equipment and, ultimately, the transmission of the program.


The news department is primarily responsible for creating news programming such as newscasts and news interview shows, although sometimes members of the news team will participate in the production of public-affairs programs. The news department is headed by the news director, who oversees all news operations and produces the final program. Assignment editors coordinate with the news director and assign stories to available reporters. Copy editors may also be employed to review and edit the written stories, and videotape editors may be employed to edit footage together. The remaining staff may consist of news anchors and reporters, sports anchors and reporters, and meteorologists.

Naturally, news must work closely with both the production and engineering departments. Production crews are needed to run the studio production of newscasts and other programming. In smaller stations, videographers (or photographers) from the production team will accompany reporters when gathering stories in the field, and the production department editors will put these packages together. Similarly, engineering will be present during studio recordings, live studio broadcasts, and, at times, field shoots to ensure that all equipment is calibrated correctly and that transmission of the signal is of broadcast quality.

Although not as costly as the average programming department, news can command as much as 20 percent of the budget of a station. In fact, news personnel in a medium-sized market may comprise almost one-fourth of the total staff of a station, as well as consume a generous amount of resources such as videotape, office materials, and power. For these reasons, perhaps, many independent stations choose not to produce many newscasts, which can cut this expenditure down to around 5 percent of the total budget. The irony of this situation, however, is that many television stations are able to sell more advertising because their stations produce news, making news a profit center for the station.

Advertising and Promotions

Advertising and promotions is where a station creates its own promotional spots and advertisements in an attempt to gain more viewership, and therefore more advertising dollars from local, regional, and national companies. This division is often combined into sales, although it may make an appearance in programming. This varying categorization of advertising and promotions makes it difficult to get an average number of staff or percentage of operating budget required. However, a fairly accurate estimation is that an average station may spend up to 5 percent of the budget on promotional and advertising activity.

Advertising and promotions works in close conjunction with the sales, production, and engineering departments. Often, it will also cooperate with the news department to create promotional spots for the various newscasts and news programming that the station produces. Other promotional spots may advertise specific shows that the station offers, or they may inform the audience of some community service or event that will be taking place in the near future. Usually, sales looks to the programming and promotions departments to increase the number of viewers that the sales department can then "sell" to an advertiser. Programming may then conduct audience research to determine the main attractions, or selling points, of a station. This information will then be synthesized into content that production will turn into a ten-, fifteen-, or thirty-second spot highlighting the chosen station asset. The ultimate goal is to advertise and promote the product in a way that maximizes the audience and revenues from advertising sales.


The linchpin of a television station is the engineering department. It is the duty of this department to transmit the programming product of a station to its audience. An average of twenty employees may have the responsibility of ensuring that a station transmits properly. These employees include the chief engineer, who oversees all technical operations, the broadcast technicians, who help maintain the equipment, and the master control operators, who actually put the programming on air.

The two main areas of responsibility for engineering are master control and technical supervision. Master control plays and transmits the programs, commercials, and live broadcasts according to the daily log created by traffic. In addition, master control also monitors the video and audio signals being transmitted, records incoming satellite feeds, and airs emergency broadcast announcements when necessary.

Technical supervision encompasses everything from maintenance to surveillance of industry developments. Broadcast engineers, for example, are responsible for fixing a broken videotape machine, but they also monitor the signals coming from cameras, microphones, and other studio and field equipment to ensure the best possible quality. In addition, engineering must perform necessary equipment upgrades, both to maintain the competitive strength of a station and to ensure compliance with the technical requirements of the Federal Communications Commission. Engineering and its various acquisitions of parts, supplies, and equipment typically require only 6 percent of the total budget of a station. However, when new technologies evolve, stations find it necessary to allocate more funds to incorporate these technologies into their operation.

The Evolution of Station Operations

Two general and inevitable trends identified in television must be considered when evaluating the potential future of station operations. The first trend is that of the shrinking local market. Television traditionally enjoyed increases in audience reach and influence. However, individual stations must continually fight for a shrinking piece of the advertising pie. The development and adoption of new media offer consumers more choices, which splits the potential audience and reduces the potential advertising revenue that any one medium may capture. Therefore, sales departments are becoming more creative and other departments more efficient for stations to respond to the changes in their competitive environment.

The second trend is the development of new technologies. As analog television technology makes way for digital, competitive concerns as well as government mandates are compelling stations to upgrade their entire production and transmission equipment. This very expensive alteration is not new. Television went through a similar change when it adopted color, and doubtlessly, television will need to adjust to other technical changes in the future. Therefore, as new and competing technologies develop, and as industry and government implement standards to adopt new technologies, stations will continue to evolve to meet the challenge and expense.

See also:Cable Television; Cable Television, Careers in; Cable Television, Programming of; Television Broadcasting; Television Broadcasting, Careers in; Television Broadcasting, History of; Television Broadcasting, Production of; Television Broadcasting, Programming and; Television Broadcasting, Technology of.


Brown, James A., and Quaal, Ward L. (1998). Radio-Television-Cable Management, 3rd edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Sherman, Barry L. (1995). Telecommunications Management: Broadcasting/Cable and the New Technologies, 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Francesca Dillman Carpentier

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