Broadcasting Industry

Significant Points

Nature of the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

Goods and services. The broadcasting industry consists of radio and television stations and networks that create content or acquire the right to broadcast prerecorded television and radio programs. Networks transmit their signals from broadcasting studios via satellite signals to local stations or cable distributors. Broadcast signals then travel over cable television lines, satellite distribution systems, or the airwaves from a station's transmission tower to the antennas of televisions and radios. Anyone in the signal area with a radio or television can receive the programming. Cable and other pay television distributors provide television broadcasts to most Americans. Although cable television stations and networks are included in this statement, cable and other pay television distributors are classified in the telecommunications industry. (See the statement on telecommunications.)

Industry organization. Radio and television stations and networks broadcast a variety of programs, such as national and local news, talk shows, music programs, movies, other entertainment, and advertisements. Stations produce some of these programs, most notably news programs, in their own studios; however, much of the programming is produced outside the broadcasting industry. Revenue for commercial radio and television stations and networks comes from the sale of advertising time. The rates paid by advertisers depend on the size and characteristics (age, gender, and median income, among others) of a program's audience. Educational and noncommercial stations generate revenue primarily from donations by individuals, foundations, government, and corporations. These stations generally are owned and managed by public broadcasting organizations, religious institutions, or school systems.

Establishments that produce filmed or taped programming for radio and television stations and networks—but that do not broadcast the programming—are in the motion picture industry. Many television networks own production companies that produce their many shows. (See the statement on the motion picture and video industry.)

Within the broadcasting industry, 73 percent of workers were employed in television and radio broadcasting, with the remaining 27 percent in cable broadcasting. Cable and other program distributors compensate local television stations and cable networks for rebroadcast rights. For popular cable networks and local television stations, distributors pay a fee per subscriber and/or agree to broadcast a less popular channel owned by the same network.

Recent developments. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is a proponent of digital television (DTV), a technology that uses digital signals to transmit television programs. Digital signals consist of pieces of simple electronic code that can carry more information than conventional analog signals. This code allows for the transmission of better quality sound and higher resolution pictures, often referred to as high-definition television (HDTV). Beginning in 2009, FCC regulations required all stations to turn off their analog signals and broadcast only in digital.

The transition to HDTV broadcasting has accelerated the conversion of other aspects of television production from analog to digital. Many stations have replaced specialized hardware with less specialized computers equipped with software that performs the same functions. Stations are beginning to switch away from tapes and instead use digital recording devices. This way footage can be more easily transferred to a computer for editing and storage. Many major network shows now use HDTV cameras and editing equipment as well.

The transition to digital broadcasting also is occurring in radio. Most stations already store music, edit clips, and broadcast their analog signals with digital equipment. Satellite radio services, which offer more than 100 channels of digital sound, operate on a subscription basis, like pay television services. To compete, some radio stations are embedding a digital signal into their analog signals. With a specially equipped radio, these digital services offer better quality sound and display some limited text, such as the title of the song and the artist.

Working Conditions[About this section] [To Top]

Hours. Many broadcast employees have erratic work schedules, sometimes having to work early in the morning or late at night. In 2008, workers in broadcasting averaged 35.8 hours a week, compated with 33.6 for workers in all private industry. Workers in television worked longer hours than those in radio broadcasting. Only 7 percent of employees work part time, compared with 16 percent for all industries.

Work environment. Most employees in this industry work in clean, comfortable surroundings in broadcast stations and studios. Some employees work in the production of shows and broadcasting, while other employees work in advertising, sales, promotions, and marketing.

Television news teams made up of reporters, camera operators, and technicians travel in electronic news-gathering vehicles to various locations to cover news stories. Although such location work is exciting, some assignments, such as reporting on military conflicts or natural disasters, may be dangerous. These assignments also may require outdoor work under adverse weather conditions.

Camera operators working on such news teams must have the physical stamina to carry and set up their equipment. Broadcast technicians on electronic news-gathering trucks must ensure that the mobile unit's antenna is correctly positioned for optimal transmission quality and to prevent electrocution from power lines. Field service engineers work on outdoor transmitting equipment and may have to climb poles or antenna towers; their work can take place under a variety of weather conditions. Broadcast technicians who maintain and set up equipment may have to do heavy lifting. Technological changes have enabled camera operators also to fulfill the tasks of broadcast technicians, operating the transmission and editing equipment on a remote broadcasting truck. News operations, programming, and engineering employees work under a great deal of pressure in order to meet deadlines. As a result, these workers are likely to experience varied or erratic work schedules, often working on early morning or late evening news programs.

Sales workers may face stress meeting sales goals. Aside from sometimes erratic work schedules, management and administrative workers typically find themselves in an environment similar to that of any other office.

For many people, the excitement of working in broadcasting compensates for the demanding nature of the work. Although the industry is noted for its high pressure and long hours, the work generally is not hazardous.

Employment[To Top]

Broadcasting provided about 316,000 wage and salary jobs in 2008.

Although 38 percent of all establishments employed fewer than 5 people, most jobs were in large establishments; 74 percent of all jobs were in establishments with at least 50 employees. Broadcasting establishments are found throughout the country, but jobs in larger stations are concentrated in large cities.

Occupations in the Industry[To Top]

Occupations at large broadcast stations and networks fall into five general categories: Program production, news related, and technical, all of which in turn fall under professional and related, sales, and management occupations. At small stations, jobs are less specialized and employees often perform several functions. Although on-camera or on-air positions are the most familiar occupations in broadcasting, the majority of employment opportunities are behind the scenes (table 1).

Program production occupations. Most television programs are produced by the motion picture and video industry; actors, directors, and producers working on these prerecorded programs are not employed by the broadcasting industry. Employees in program production occupations at television and radio stations create programs such as news, talk, and music shows.

Assistant producers provide clerical support and background research; assist with the preparation of musical, written, and visual materials; and time productions to make sure that they do not run over schedule. Assistant producers also may operate cameras and other audio and video equipment.

Video editors select and assemble prerecorded video to create a finished program, applying sound and special effects as necessary. Conventional editing requires assembling pieces of videotape in a linear fashion to create a finished product. The editor first assembles the beginning of the program and then works sequentially towards the end. Newer computerized editing allows an editor to electronically cut and paste video segments. This electronic technique is known as nonlinear editing, because the editor is no longer restricted to working sequentially. A segment may be moved at any time to any location in the program.

Producers plan and develop live or taped productions, determining how the show will look and sound. They select the script, talent, sets, props, lighting, and other production elements. Producers also coordinate the activities of on-air personalities, production staff, and other personnel. Web site or Internet producers, a relatively new occupation in the broadcasting industry, plan and develop Internet sites that provide news updates, program schedules, and information about popular shows. These producers decide what will appear on the Internet sites and design and maintain them.

Announcers read news items and provide other information, such as program schedules and station breaks for commercials or public-service information. Many radio announcers, referred to as disc jockeys, play recorded music on radio stations. Disc jockeys may take requests from listeners; interview guests; and comment on the music, weather, or traffic. Most stations now have placed all of their advertisements, sound bites, and music on a computer, which is used to select and play or edit the items. Technological advances have simplified the monitoring and adjusting of the transmitter, leaving disc jockeys responsible for most of the tasks associated with keeping a station on the air. Traditional tapes and CDs are used only as backups in case of a computer failure. Announcers and disc jockeys need a good speaking voice. Disc jockeys also need a significant knowledge of music.

Program directors are in charge of on-air programming in radio stations. They decide what type of music will be played, supervise on-air personnel, and often select the specific songs and the order in which they will be played. Considerable experience, usually as a disc jockey, is required, as is a thorough knowledge of music.

News-related occupations. News, weather, and sports reports are important to many television stations because these reports attract a large audience and account for a large proportion of revenue. Many radio stations depend on up-to-the-minute news for a major share of their programming. Program production staffs, such as producers and announcers, also work on the production of news programs.

Reporters gather information from various sources, analyze and prepare news stories, and present information on the air. Correspondents report on news occurring in U.S. and foreign cities in which they are stationed. Newswriters write and edit news stories from information collected by reporters and correspondents. Newswriters may advance to positions as reporters or correspondents.

Broadcast news analysts, also known as news anchors and newscasters, analyze, interpret, and broadcast news received from various sources. News anchors present news stories and introduce videotaped news or live transmissions from on-the-scene reporters. Newscasters at large stations may specialize in a particular field. Weathercasters, also called weather reporters, report current and forecasted weather conditions. They gather information from national satellite weather services, wire services, and local and regional weather bureaus. Some weathercasters are trained atmospheric scientists and can develop their own weather forecasts. Sportscasters, who are responsible for reporting sporting events, usually select, write, and deliver the sports news for each newscast.

Assistant news directors supervise the newsroom. They coordinate wire service reports, tape or film inserts, and stories from individual newswriters and reporters. Assignment editors assign stories to news teams, sending the teams on location if necessary.

News directors have overall responsibility for the news team, made up of reporters, writers, editors, and newscasters, as well as responsibility for studio and mobile unit production crews. This senior administrative position carries with it duties that include determining what events to cover and how and when they will be presented in a news broadcast.

Technical occupations. Employees in these occupations operate and maintain the electronic equipment that records and transmits radio or television programs. The titles of some of these occupations use the terms "engineer," "technician," and "operator" interchangeably.

Radio operators manage equipment that regulates the strength and clarity of signals and the range of sounds of broadcasts. They also monitor and log the outgoing signals and operate transmitters. Audio and video equipment technicians operate equipment that regulates the volume, sound quality, brightness, contrast, and visual quality of a broadcast. Broadcast technicians set up and maintain electronic broadcasting equipment. Their work can extend outside the studio, as when they set up portable transmitting equipment or maintain stationary towers.

Television and video camera operators set up and operate studio cameras, which are used in the television studio, and electronic news-gathering cameras, which are mobile and used outside the studio when a news team is pursuing a story at another location. In both cases, cameras are evolving from tape to disc-based formats. Camera operators need training in video production, as well as some experience in television production.

Master control engineers ensure that all of the radio or television station's scheduled program elements, such as on-location feeds, prerecorded segments, and commercials, are transmitted smoothly. They also are responsible for ensuring that transmissions meet FCC requirements.

Technical directors direct the studio and control room technical staff during the production of a program. They need a thorough understanding of both the production and technical aspects of broadcasting. This knowledge often is acquired by working as a lighting director or camera operator or as another type of broadcast worker.

Network and computer systems administrators and network systems and data communications analysts design, set up, and maintain systems of computer servers. These servers store recorded programs, advertisements, and news clips.

Assistant chief engineers oversee the day-to-day technical operations of the station. Chief engineers, or directors of engineering, are responsible for all of the station's technical facilities and services. These workers need a bachelors' degree in electrical engineering, technical training in broadcast engineering, and years of broadcast engineering experience.

Sales and related occupations. Most workers in this category are advertising sales agents, sometimes known as account executives. They sell advertising time to sponsors, advertising agencies, and other buyers. Sales representatives must have a thorough knowledge of the size and characteristics of their network's or station's audience, including income levels, gender distribution, age, and consumption patterns.

Sales work has expanded beyond the traditional role of simply selling advertising through a wide range of marketing efforts. For instance, stations earn additional revenue by broadcasting from a business, such as a dance club. Businesses also sponsor concerts or other promotions that are organized by a station. In return for sponsorship, the businesses usually are allowed to set up a booth or post large signs at the event.

Continuity directors schedule and produce commercials. In doing so, they take into account the timeslot in which a commercial is to be played, as well as competing advertisements. For example, two car dealership advertisements should not be played during the same commercial break. Continuity directors also create and produce advertisements for clients who do not produce their own.

Large stations and networks generally have several workers who spend all of their time handling sales. Sales worker supervisors, who may handle a few large accounts personally, supervise these workers. In small stations, part-time sales personnel or announcers often handle sales responsibilities during hours when they are not on the air.

Management occupations. General managers, or station managers, coordinate all radio and television station activities. In very small stations, the manager and a bookkeeper may handle all of the accounting, purchasing, hiring, and other routine office work. In larger stations, the general administrative staff includes business managers, accountants, lawyers, personnel workers, public relations workers, and others. These professionals are assisted by office and administrative support workers, such as secretaries, word processors, typists, and financial clerks.

Table 1. Employment of wage and salary workers in broadcasting, 2008 and projected change, 2008-2018. (Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2008 Percent Change,
Number Percent
All occupations 316.0 100.0 7.4
Management, business, and financial occupations 30.3 9.6 9.3
  Top executives 8.2 2.6 -5.4
  Advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers 6.9 2.2 11.8
  Accountants and auditors 3.0 1.0 15.6
Professional and related occupations 166.7 52.8 4.4
  Computer specialists 9.3 3.0 18.8
  Producers and directors 27.2 8.6 4.7
  Radio and television announcers 34.2 10.8 -9.5
  Broadcast news analysts 5.7 1.8 5.1
  Reporters and correspondents 9.8 3.1 7.3
  Public relations specialists 5.0 1.6 19.9
  Writers and editors 7.4 2.4 12.7
  Broadcast technicians 25.2 8.0 -0.1
  Photographers 4.4 1.4 13.0
  Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors 11.3 3.6 2.3
Sales and related occupations 42.1 13.3 6.2
  Advertising sales agents 30.6 9.7 4.8
  Sales representatives, services, all other 4.2 1.3 19.3
Office and administrative support occupations 49.1 15.6 10.4
  Customer service representatives 8.7 2.8 33.1
  Receptionists and information clerks 3.7 1.2 9.6
  Secretaries and administrative assistants 9.9 3.1 5.5
  Office clerks, general 8.0 2.5 7.1
Installation, maintenance, and repair occupations 25.1 8.0 21.9
  Telecommunications equipment installers and repairers, except line installers 6.8 2.2 22.9
  Telecommunications line installers and repairers 11.7 3.7 23.1
NOTE: Columns may not add to total due to omission of occupations with small employment.

Training and Advancement[About this section] [To Top]

Professional, management, and sales occupations generally require a college degree; technical occupations often do not. It is easier to obtain employment and gain promotions with a degree, especially in larger, more competitive markets. Advanced schooling usually is required for supervisory positions—including technical occupations—having greater responsibility and higher salaries.

Employees in the radio and television broadcasting industry often find their first job in broadcast stations that serve smaller markets. Competition for positions in large metropolitan areas is stronger, and stations in these areas usually seek highly experienced personnel. Because many radio and television stations are small, workers in this industry often must change employers to advance. Relocation to other parts of the country frequently is necessary for advancement.

News-related and program production occupations. Entry-level jobs in news or program production increasingly are requiring a college degree and some broadcast experience. About 1,300 institutions offer programs in communication, journalism, and related occupations. As of 2008, more than 100 schools were accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. Some community colleges offer 2-year programs in broadcasting. Broadcast trade schools offer courses that last 6 months to a year and teach radio and television announcing, writing, and production.

Individuals pursuing a career in broadcasting often gain their initial experience through work at college radio and television stations or through internships at professional stations. Although these positions usually are unpaid, they sometimes provide college credit or tuition. More importantly, they provide hands-on experience and a competitive edge for a candidate who is applying for a job. In this highly competitive industry, broadcasters are less willing to provide on-the-job training and instead seek candidates who can perform the job immediately.

Technical occupations. Some technical positions require only a high school diploma or brief postsecondary training. However, many broadcast stations seek individuals with training in broadcast technology, electronics, or engineering from a 4-year college. Because of the increase in the use of digital technology, an understanding of computer networks and software is especially important for potential employees. Supervisory technical positions and jobs in large stations generally require a college degree.

The Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE) issues certification to technicians who pass a written examination. Several classes of certification are available, requiring increasing levels of experience and knowledge for eligibility.

Sales and related occupations. These positions generally require a 4-year degree. As with the rest of the industry, it is easier to begin work in a small station or market and move on to a larger one as experience is acquired.

Management occupations. Station managers should have a 4-year degree and significant experience working at a television or radio station. The administrative staff is extremely varied and will require different amounts of education and training, depending on the job.

Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

Keen competition is expected for many jobs, particularly in large metropolitan areas, because of the large number of jobseekers attracted by the glamour of this industry. Job prospects will be best for applicants with a college degree in broadcasting, journalism, or a related field, as well as relevant work experience, such as work at college radio and television stations or internships at professional stations.

Employment change. Employment in broadcasting is expected to increase by 7 percent over the 2008–18 period, less than the 11 percent increase projected for all industries combined. Factors contributing to the relatively slow rate of growth include industry consolidation, the introduction of new technologies, and competition from other media outlets. The slow growth will be tempered, however, by growth in the cable and subscription division of broadcasting.

The consolidation of individual broadcast stations into large networks, especially in radio, continues. This trend will limit employment growth as networks use workers more efficiently. For example, a network can run eight radio stations from one office, producing news programming at one station and then using that programming for broadcast from other stations, thus eliminating the need for multiple news staffs. Similarly, technical workers, upper-level management, and marketing and advertising sales workers are pooled to work for several stations simultaneously. In the radio industry, several major companies own numerous stations nationwide. These companies achieve cost savings through consolidation and economies of scale, limiting employment growth.

The introduction of new technology also is slowing employment growth. Conventional broadcast equipment used to be relatively specialized; each piece of equipment served a separate function and required an operator with specialized knowledge. Newer computerized equipment often combines the functions of several older pieces of equipment and does not require specialized knowledge for its operation. This reduces the need for certain types of workers, including those responsible for editing, recording, and creating graphics.

Job growth in television also is being constrained by the increased competition created by services outside the broadcasting industry. Portable music players, cable TV, and especially the Internet have created new challenges that the industry must adapt to in order to continue to be successful.

Employment in radio broadcasting is expected to decline. In addition to consolidation and new technology, the major threats to the radio industry, especially to smaller, marginal stations, are from MP3 players and from satellite radio, which functions like cable television, with subscribers paying a monthly fee. Radio broadcasters are building their own HD radio stations. If successful, these could result in more technical and production job growth.

Job prospects. Keen competition is expected for many jobs, particularly in large metropolitan areas, because of the large number of jobseekers attracted by the glamour of this industry. Job prospects will be best for applicants with a college degree in broadcasting, journalism, or a related field, as well as relevant work experience, such as work at college radio and television stations or internships at professional stations.

Technology in the broadcasting industry is rapidly changing and forcing workers to continually update their skills. Those who receive continued technical training will increasingly have an advantage over others in the production and news-related occupations, as well as in technical occupations. Workers with little job experience will find it easier to gain employment in smaller markets or at small stations in large markets. Large stations usually hire only people with more experience.

Earnings [About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Industry earnings. Weekly earnings of nonsupervisory workers in broadcasting averaged $852 in 2008, higher than the average of $608 for all private industry. Earnings of broadcast personnel typically are highest in large metropolitan areas. Wages for selected occupations in broadcasting appear in table 2.

Table 2. Median hourly wages of the largest occupations in broadcasting, May 2008
Occupation Broadcasting, except Internet All industries
General and operations managers $46.94 $44.02
Producers and directors 28.05 30.98
Advertising sales agents 20.33 20.90
Telecommunications line installers and repairers 19.17 23.12
Camera operators, television, video, and motion picture 18.50 20.03
Reporters and correspondents 18.18 16.75
Customer service representatives 15.11 14.36
Broadcast technicians 14.49 15.82
Radio and television announcers 12.76 12.95
Office clerks, general 11.89 12.17

Benefits and union membership. Workers in broadcasting generally receive standard benefits, including health insurance, paid vacation and sick leave, and pension plans, although often few benefits are available to part-time workers and those who work for small employers.

About 11 percent of workers in broadcasting were union members or covered by union contracts, compared with 14 percent in all industries. The principal unions representing employees in broadcasting are the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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