The term tent-pole refers to a broadcast programming or motion picture expected to hold up (as is the function of a tent pole) and balance out the financial performance of a movie studio or television network. In the movie business, tent-poles are sometimes widely released initial offerings in a string of releases and are expected by studios to turn a profit in a short period of time. Such programming is often accompanied by larger budgets and heavy promotion. An example of this strategy in television is to schedule a popular television program alongside new or unknown programming, in an attempt to keep audience viewers watching after the flagship program is over; a prominent example is the long-running Star Trek franchise.
Indian Television article 'Karishma' pivot for Sahara's big league push Posted on 22 August 2003 says "Tent-pole programming -- where one or two blockbuster shows are used to hook the viewers and ensure that they stay loyal to the channel just for those one or more programmes. An oft-used term nowadays but one which certainly applies to ..."
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