Eli5: Can someone please explain the difference between TV channels and TV distributors?


How do they differ and how do they work together? Are there instances where both overlap?

In: 4

HBO, Showtime, and Starz are all TV channels. You could say that channel surfers are looking for things to watch on TV. But what they’re really looking for are good old-fashioned TV shows. And that’s where TV distributors come in. TV distributors are the ones who actually get the shows from the networks and deliver them to your TV set.

In it’s basic form, a TV channel describes an entity that is allowed (licensed) to broadcast in a specific region. The entity would license the right to broadcast over a specific frequency over the air. The specific frequencies would be defined by regulators so they don’t overlap.

Technically, a TV channel refers to a group of frequencies (in North America its a 6 mhz span). People would use antennas to tune into the channels and watch what was being broadcast.

Reception range was limited and impacted by local geography/broadcast strength. Broadcast strength was also regulated, so that the same group of frequencies could be resold in different regions.

Cable companies started putting up high quality receivers and would re-transmit the channels over a wire. This provided better quality and allowed for more channels to be available in households. Instead of tuning to a set of frequencies over the air, you would tune into a set of frequencies carried on a wire.

TV stations originally created their own content, like local news and other things people wanted to watch, but it could get very expensive to fill all the hours of the day. So they started to group into affiliations aka networks in order to share content and reach bigger audiences. Networks had more spending power so they started creating studios to make their own shows. Still, there was more time available than there was content. Independent companies started creating their own content as well. They would sell it to the networks (there’s a yearly convention where all the networks come together to bid on and buy new shows). The companies that transmit these independent shows to the networks are called distributors.

Then came the Internet and changed everything.