Skip to Content View Previous Reports


Cable TV
By the Project For Excellence In Journalism



A la carte cable: A pricing model that would allow consumers to pick which channels they wish to view. 

Amortization: An accounting procedure that gradually reduces the cost value of a limited-life or intangible asset through periodic changes to income (Alison, A., et al., from Media Economics: Theory and Practice).

Bureau: An office for gathering or distributing news. Similar terms are used for specialized bureaus, often to indicate geographic location or scope of coverage: a Tokyo bureau refers to a given news operation’s office in Tokyo, Japan; foreign bureau is a generic term for a news office set up in a country other than the primary operations center; a Washington bureau is an office, typically located in Washington, D.C., that covers news related to national politics in the United States.

Cable system: A video distribution system that uses coaxial cable and optical fiber to deliver multichannel service to households within a geographically defined franchise area (Webster, J. et al., from Ratings Analysis: The Theory and Practice of Audience Research).  

CPM: The cost an advertiser pays for every thousand viewers who watch a 30-second television ad (cost per thousand, in industry terms). For example, if Nielsen estimates that 1 million people watch Fox News on a given day, a 30-second ad would cost $3.97 times a thousand (or $3,970 per ad). These costs vary depending on the show and day part.

Cumulative audience measurement: A way of measuring audience. “Cume” is short for cumulative audience. This calculation refers to the number of individual (or “unique”) viewers who watch a channel for at least six minutes over the course of a month. Cume is sometimes referred to as “reach” in the industry.

Daytime: Daytime refers to the hours between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., in which the average cable audience for that time period is measured by Nielsen Media.

Fixer: A local resident who helps a foreign correspondent with reporting duties. As George Packer wrote in a September 2009 New Yorker article, that help comes in various forms:

“interpreting, finding the phone number of the Iraqi member of parliament, knowing the personal history of the Afghan battalion commander, setting up interviews, hiring a car and driver, figuring out where to get food on a long drive in the desert, dispensing political analysis and cultural insight and—sometimes most importantly—security advice, about this or that contact, this or that road.”

News hole: The space given to news content in a program or publication. On TV, it is measured in time, and in text-based media, words. Thus for cable news, for example, the Project refers to the percent of total seconds that a certain story received. In other words, of all the seconds analyzed in cable news this week, ground events in Iraq accounted for xx% (or xx seconds out of a total of xxx).

Packaged cable: The current pricing model for multi-channel television in which a number of channels are bundled together.

Prime time: Prime time refers to the hours between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., in which the average audience is measured by Nielsen (on Sundays, the prime-time hours are 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.).

Programming costs: The expenses incurred by a cable programmer in the production of original programming and the purchase of rights to non-original programming.

SG&A: Selling, general & administrative expenses. These include any overhead costs not directly associated with programming at a cable channel.

Subscriber fees: Also known as license fees, subscriber fees come to cable channels indirectly from viewers. The channels are paid the fees by cable systems (in exchange for their programs), which in turn recoup that money in cable bills to consumers. The amounts of those fees are negotiated with the cable systems based on an estimate of how many subscribers the system will have during the life of the agreement.

Viewership: Measurement of how many people are in an audience.