The term television channel generally refers to either a
television stationor its cable/satellite counterpart (both outlined below). Sometimes, especially outside US and in the context of cable/satellite television, it is confused with the term television network, which (when properly used) describes a group of geographically-distributed television stations that share affiliation/ownership and some or all of their programming with one another.
The term may also refer to a physical or virtual location over which a television channel (in the above sense) is distributed. For example, in
Northern America, "channel 2" refers to the broadcast band of 54 to 60 MHz, with carrier frequenciesof 55.25 MHz for NTSCanalog video ( VSB) and 59.75 MHz for analog audio ( FM). Channels may be shared by many different television stations or cable-distributed channels depending on the location and service provider.
This terminology may be muddled somewhat in other
jurisdictions, for instance Europe, where terrestrial channels are commonly mapped from physical channels to common numerical positions (i.e. BBC Onedoes not broadcast on any particular "channel 1" but is nonetheless mapped to the "1" input on most British television sets). On digital platforms, such (location) channels are usually arbitrary, due to virtual channels.
A television station is a type of broadcast station that broadcasts both audio "and"
videoto televisionreceivers in a particular area. Traditionally, TV stations made their broadcasts by sending specially encoded radiosignals over the air, called terrestrial television. Individual television stations are usually granted licenses by a government agencyto use a particular section of the radio spectrum(a channel) through which they send their signals. Some stations use LPTV broadcast translators to retransmit to further areas.
Non-broadcast television channels
Because some regions have had difficulty picking up over-the-air signals (particularly in
mountainous areas), alternative means of distribution such as direct-to-home satellite and cable television have been introduced. Television channels specifically built to run on cable or satellite blur the line between TV station and TV network. That fact led some early cable channels to call themselves superstations.
Satellite and cable have created changes. Broadcast TV stations in an area can sign up to be carried on cable (called "
must-carry" in the U.S.), but content providers like TLC cannot. They are not licensed to run broadcast equipment like a station, and they do not regularly provide content to licensed broadcasters either. Furthermore, a distributor like TNT may begin producing its own programming, and shows presented exclusively on cable/satellite by one distributor may be syndicated to broadcast stations. The cost of creating a nationwide channel has been reduced and there has been a huge increase in the number of such channels, with most catering to a small group.
From the definitions above, use of the terms "network" or "station" in reference to nationwide cable/satellite channels is technically inaccurate. However, this is an arbitrary, inconsequential distinction, and varies from company to company. Indeed, the term "
cable network" has entered into common usage in the United States in reference to such channels. There is even some geographical separation among "national" cable/satellite channels in the U.S., be it programming (i.e. the Fox Sports Netgroup of regional sports channels, which share several programs), or simply regionalized advertising inserted by the local cable company.
Should a legal distinction be necessary between a (location) channel as defined above and a television channel in this sense, the terms "programming service" (e.g. [http://arbiter.wipo.int/domains/decisions/html/2001/d2001-1440.html] ) or "programming undertaking" (e.g. [http://www.crtc.gc.ca/Eng/forms/efiles/f109.htm] ) may be used instead for the latter definition.
A person viewing by cable or satellite might not know what kind of organization is responsible for a given program, especially if it is syndicated, so what seems to be a station or a network may be neither.
Lists of television channels
Television channel frequencies
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