Dayparting

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Approximate U.S. television broadcast dayparts for weekdays (Eastern Time). The blank area from 2 to 6 a.m. is the "graveyard slot" and not considered important.

In broadcast programming, dayparting is the practice of dividing the day into several parts, during each of which a different type of radio or television program apropos for that time is aired. Television programs are most often geared toward a particular demographic, and what the target audience typically engages in at that time.

Dayparts on radio[edit]

Nielsen Audio (formerly known as Arbitron until merging with A.C. Nielsen Co. in 2013), the leading audience measurement ratings service in the United States, divides a weekday into five dayparts: morning drive time (6–10 a.m.), midday (10 a.m.–3 p.m.), afternoon drive (3–7 p.m.), evenings (7:00 p.m.–midnight), and overnight (midnight–6 a.m.).

In radio broadcasting through most of the 1990s, dayparting was also used for censorship purposes. Many songs deemed unsuitable for young listeners were played only during the late evening or overnight hours when children were presumably asleep. Even today, the Federal Communications Commission dictates less stringent decency requirements for programming aired between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time.

The drive time dayparts coincide with rush hour; these dayparts are traditionally the most listened-to portions of the schedule, since these are the times when most people are in their cars, where radios remain nearly ubiquitous. Most stations (both talk and music) air local programming in one or both drive time slots. The midday, or "at work" slot, has in recent years become particularly prone to voice tracking, as large station ownership groups cut costs and use supposedly local jocks at multiple stations (often in different time zones). Music stations often are careful not to repeat songs during the midday shift, as they generally have a captive audience, and will often use "9 to 5 No Repeat Workdays" and all-request or specialty lunch hours to lure listeners and air a broader variety of music. Evenings are a popular time for syndicated programs, while overnights are generally automated, either with or without a voice-tracked jock, though there are a few niche programs that target special audiences in the overnight and early morning hours (Coast to Coast AM, Midnight Trucking Radio Network and the National Farm Report, among them). On weekends, music stations often air syndicated programming, without regard to time slots (though Saturday nights often remain live with either local or syndicated hosts, especially on oldies and country music stations, to take requests) and talk stations air niche network shows or brokered programming. Religious programming often airs on Sunday mornings.

In talk radio, where voice tracking is impossible and broadcast syndication is live and national, these lines blur somewhat. The Rush Limbaugh Show airs in a time slot that is in midday in all time zones, but other than that and overnight shows such as Coast to Coast AM, a show that airs in the Pacific time zone's afternoon drive time (for instance, The Lars Larson Show) would fall into a less-listened to evening time slot on the East Coast. Similarly, a show that airs during early middays on the East Coast (such as the Glenn Beck Program) would be aired during the morning drive time period on the West Coast, and may not live up to the expectations of listeners expecting local, informative content. The general solution for this problem is to tape-delay programming to fit schedules.

Dayparts on television[edit]

On television, like on radio, the day is divided into similar dayparts, although the times have been blurred somewhat. Breakfast television programs air between 7-10 a.m.; on network television, these are usually long-form news programs featuring entertainment, light fare and features aimed toward women. Until the 1970s or so, children's programming such as Captain Kangaroo aired in this time slot (since that time, however, the school day has come earlier, making such programs less viable). After breakfast comes daytime television, which, like the previous daypart, targets women (and also notably college students), particularly older retirees and the ever-shrinking base of stay-at-home moms and housewives; the soap opera, tabloid talk show, judge show and (much more rarely since the 1990s) the game show are popular genres in this daypart. A local midday newscast also airs during the noon hour on most stations as well (if so the case; some stations may schedule their midday newscasts up to one hour earlier).

The later part of the daytime slot can sometimes be targeted at children and teenagers who come home from school. The U.S. networks Fox and The WB had children's program blocks during the mid-1990s into the early 2000s, and even prior to that, CBS's Match Game exploited this audience to set ratings records in the 1970s. The United Kingdom's Channel 4 has also had consistent success with late-afternoon game shows; Countdown, airing daily since the network's launch, has been one of the network's popular programmes.

From 5-7 p.m. (in the United States, this can sometimes be as early as 4 p.m.), newscasts are usually shown on most television stations. Local news is usually coupled with a half-hour network newscast and possibly a syndicated news program. Unlike morning news shows, these are more generally targeted programs and feature more hard news stories (network evening newscasts, unlike their local counterparts, tend to limit weather and sports coverage unless it is a notable news story). Stations affiliated with minor networks usually air syndicated sitcom reruns or continue daytime programming during this daypart. Following the news, prime time begins with what is usually referred to as the "access period" (after former legislation in the United States which previously required networks to not show network-supplied programming in that hour). In the United States (and to a certain extent Canada), two game shows, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! have dominated this time slot since the 1980s, and they usually compete with syndicated entertainment newsmagazines (such as Entertainment Tonight). Additional local newscasts have become increasingly popular in this time slot.

Prime time is the highest profile of television dayparts, from 7 or 8 p.m. to 10 or 11 p.m., depending on the network and time zone. The highest rated programs on television often air during prime time, and almost all scripted programming (except soap operas and more recently, sketch comedy shows) air during the prime time slots. Usually the main reason for the high profile of prime time television is due to the fact that many people who come home from work and school tend to watch television more than any other activity. Following prime time, late newscasts often air, followed by late night television. Late-night shows are predominantly targeted toward younger male audiences (college students and people who suffer insomnia are also a large audience for late night television programs) and feature a common format of a male host delivering a stand-up comedy routine (known as a monologue), several guests, and a house band. After the late night shows, programming varies; this time slot between approximately 2 and 6 a.m. is known as the "graveyard slot" due to the extremely low numbers of viewers. Some stations may sign-off for the night, air infomercials, or air news or reruns of other programming. In some countries, programming aimed at adult audiences may also air during the late night hours, such as softcore pornography (in the United States, a handful of cable television channels such as Cinemax and HDNet have used this practice, but this is forbidden on American broadcast television; an exception to this is if the broadcast signal is encrypted, this allowed subscription networks that transmitted over broadcast television in the 1970s and 1980s such as ON-TV to air pornographic films at night).

In North America, Friday nights are often considered to be the "death slot", due to the concept that many shows scheduled on or moved to Friday nights would not last long before cancellation due to low ratings. Some shows have achieved success on Fridays even with the notion of the death slot (examples include some programs within the now-defunct TGIF lineup, and more recently Shark Tank, both aired on ABC). Other "death slots" include Saturday nights, the 12:00 noon and 4:00 p.m. weekday time slots (at least during the 1980s; both time slots have since been abandoned by all networks and given to local news or syndication), and the time slot or slots immediately opposite popular shows such as American Idol or the Super Bowl (see also Super Bowl counterprogramming). The phenomenon of fewer viewers on Friday and Saturday is in part because most people (particularly younger viewers that advertisers seek) are usually not home to watch television on Friday and Saturday nights, and as a result, programs that air during this time are usually low rated. However, some cable channels aimed at teenage or pre-teen audiences, such as Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, have been successful with original programs that they commonly air in the perceived Friday and Saturday night death slots; Nickelodeon in particular, has aired first-run programs during Saturday primetime since 1992 with the creation of the SNICK block (later renamed TEENick from 2004 to 2009).

Weekends have a slightly different setup than weekdays. On Saturdays, morning shows share time with the Saturday morning cartoon, where the networks usually fulfill federally mandated regulations in some countries requiring the airing of educational or children's shows (such as in the United States, where at least three hours of this programming must air weekly across all television stations; although most of the children's programs have increasingly become more live action in nature than animated). Sunday mornings, often known as the graveyard slot (particularly very early on Sunday morning) feature more morning shows (more common in the United States, varying in other countries), public affairs programming designed for very small audiences, additional infomercials, religious programs, and a series of influential political and news analysis/interview programs known as the Sunday morning talk shows.

Weekend afternoons (both Saturday and Sunday) often feature sporting events of varying degrees. During the fall, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC all broadcast football (all air college football; all but ABC air NFL football as well), NBA and college basketball airs respectively on ABC and CBS during the winter and spring while the NHL airs on NBC during this time period. Golf (all networks, except for Fox), auto racing (ABC and Fox for NASCAR, though other networks sometimes air open-wheel circuits) and baseball (Fox) occur during the summer; in addition, sports anthology series such as the CBS Sports Spectacular, Canada's CBC Sports Saturday and ABC's Wide World of Sports broadcast a broad variety of lesser-known sports. Most stations also find time when sports is not airing to air large blocks of infomercials during this time slot. Cable networks and some broadcast stations frequently air feature films during weekend afternoons.

Prime time programming on Saturday nights vary by country. In Europe, Saturday night prime time is usually devoted to entertainment programming such as reality talent shows such as The X Factor on ITV and Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC in the United Kingdom or drama television shows such as Doctor Who on the BBC and Primeval on ITV. In North America, with the exception of Univision's Sabado Gigante, not many new programs air on Saturday nights, focusing more on movies, reruns and sports. In Canada, CBC Television historically airs Saturday night NHL hockey nationally under the title Hockey Night in Canada, dating back to the early days of radio; other Canadian networks use the Saturday night slot to meet Canadian content quotas (a practice pejoratively known as the "beaver hour"). The U.S.-based Fox network established a permanent sports block on Saturday night in 2012, carrying a range of sports including Pacific-12 Conference college football, Major League Baseball, NASCAR and the Ultimate Fighting Championship on a periodic basis with reruns airing when sports events are not scheduled (this block displaced Fox's long-running reality series COPS from its time slot of over two decades); ABC carries Saturday Night Football (college football) during the fall, then switches to a mix of movies, newsmagazines and primetime reruns for the rest of the year.

In the U.S., late night programming on Saturday features one prominent sketch comedy show, NBC's Saturday Night Live, while other stations carry syndicated reruns. Sunday evening is generally treated as a regular weeknight, with popular prime time programs airing. In the United States and Canada, prime time network programs start one hour earlier on Sunday evenings (6 or 7 p.m., depending on the time zone) than on Monday through Saturdays, an exception to the since-repealed Prime Time Access Rule as part of a 1975 revision to the rule allowed networks to program the time slot on Sundays. No network programming currently airs in the Sunday late night slot.

In the United States, dayparting is by far the most common among the Big Three television networks (ABC, NBC and CBS), all three of which continue to produce programming for a wide array of audiences (a programming strategy known as full service). This is also generally true of other countries where the major terrestrial broadcasters have more general audiences. Cable and satellite channels, most of which cater to smaller niche audiences, generally use much simpler programming strategies: infomercials in the morning, reruns (often in block or marathon format) in the daytime, and feature programming in prime time, replayed in late night (though this structure varies, some channels may opt not to lease out certain time periods to infomercials and program overnight and morning time periods with entertainment programs instead). Cable news outlets typically program a network-style morning show, rolling news coverage in the daytime with opinion programming or long-form documentaries at night; ESPN follows a similar format, but with sporting events in prime time, while its opinion programs air primarily on sister outlet ESPN2. Stations that feature music programming may devote their morning and/or midday blocks to music videos.

Australia[edit]

In Australia, dayparting is not as complex. Breakfast television is generally seen as 6:00 to 9:00 a.m., although since 2010 two of the three networks introduced news from 5:00 a.m.. Morning television involves a news bulletin and a 'light news/talk' show, featuring advertorials. Daytime television overlaps morning, considered from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., features imported daytime programs from the U.S., such as Oprah, The View and Judge Judy. Only two U.S. soaps are seen (Days of our Lives and The Bold and the Beautiful), though more are available on subscription television. Various repeated shows and movies are also run.

The early fringe occurs in the late afternoon/early evening, from 4:00 to 7:30 p.m., with children's programming in the early part, as well as afternoon and evening news and public affairs shows at 4:30, 5:00, 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. depending on the channel. Locally produced game shows Deal Or No Deal and Hot Seat air at 5:30 p.m. across two channels. At 7:00 p.m., one channel airs repeats of U.S. sitcoms, while another airs an Australian soap Home And Away and the third airs a light news/talk show.

Primetime is officially (i.e. primetime ratings figures) from 6:00 p.m. until midnight, however the peak audiences are between 6:00 and 10:30 p.m. Primetime programming is advertised as starting from 7:30 p.m., with a more family friendly program airing during this time, until classification restrictions allow for racier content from 8:30 p.m. There is a small audience drop off at 9:30 p.m., and a significant audience drop off after 10:30 p.m., with not much promotion given to show airing after this time. Local late news only airs on one of the three networks. Thus, the late fringe occurs from 10:30 p.m. to around 12:30 a.m., depending on the program which proceeds it.

Overnight occurs anywhere from midnight to 5:00 a.m., and features mostly reruns, home shopping advertorials and religious programs. From around 4 a.m. until local news resumes, the three networks air the three U.S. breakfast shows (Today, Good Morning America and the CBS This Morning) in a cutdown format. The U.S. Today show is retitled NBC Today in Australia, to avoid confusion with the Australian program of the same name, which airs on another network than the U.S. show.

Daily variations[edit]

There are some variations to dayparting based on the day. The highest ratings are achieved in primetime on Sunday to Thursday, although the early fringe holds lifestyle shows before the news instead of game shows. Friday and Saturday primetime, much like the U.S., has lower audience numbers due to the fact younger audiences are not at home watching television. Friday nights feature live AFL and NRL matches, as well as lesser popular series or movies, although lifestyle series Better Homes and Gardens has proved popular on Friday nights airing before live sport. Saturday nights are dedicated to either family movies or programming for older audiences, such as movies or series such as Heartbeat or A Touch of Frost. AFL also airs on Saturday nights.

Friday and Saturday nights are the almost the only times when programming differs between states, due to the differing popularity of sports interstate. AFL is only broadcast live in Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, while the NRL is only shown in the other states live.

Weekend daytime is also very different, with the exception of sport and weekend breakfast programs, there are no regular programs.

Timetable[edit]

Weekday Dayparts US (EST) UK (GMT) AUS (AEST)
Early morning
(Usually alloted to early morning newscasts)
4:00 AM - 7:00 AM 5.30 AM - 6:00 AM 3:00 AM - 6:00 AM
Breakfast
(Usually allotted to breakfast/morning shows)
7:00 AM – 9:00 AM 6:00 AM – 9:25 AM 6:00 AM – 9:00 AM
Daytime
(Usually allotted to daytime game shows, talk
shows, soap operas, and the like)
Late morning 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM 9:25 AM – 1:00 PM 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM
Afternoon 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Flagship newscast 6:30 PM – 7:00 PM 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Early evening 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM
National prime time 8:00 PM – 11:00 PM 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM 7:00 PM and beyond
Late night 11:35 PM – 2:00 AM 10:00 PM ~ uncertain Until 1:00 AM
Graveyard slot
(Mainly allotted to infomercials in the US, rolling news and teletext services in the UK (Notable others include Shipping Forecast))
2:00 AM - 4:00 AM Uncertain ~ 5:30 AM 1:00 AM - 3:00 AM