What is a Cable TV Network?

Cable networks are similar to broadcast networks, but they are only available via satellite and cable television services. The other main difference between cable and broadcast networks is that cable networks don't need to rebroadcast their programming on local television stations in each market that they serve. That's due to the fact that cable network programming is provided directly to consumers via satellite and cable service providers.

Cable networks are sometimes referred to as channels since they don't actually utilize networks of local stations, but the satellite and cable providers that they partner with are often referred to as affiliates. These affiliates effectively form the networks used by cable television channels.

Network Television

Prior to the introduction of cable television, all television programming was delivered via over the air broadcasts. In order to provide enough programming each day, a lot of early television stations partnered with national broadcasters. These national broadcasters, many of which evolved from earlier radio networks, provided their partners with everything from news to entertainment programming.

Network television is a term that was coined to describe networks of local stations that all broadcast the same content. The individual television stations form a network that a central operation uses to distribute its television programming over a large geographic area. That means cable and satellite channels aren't actually networks in the traditional sense, but the term is often applied to them anyway.

Cable Channels

The number of television networks was limited by the number of available channels before the introduction of cable. In the United States, three main networks virtually dominated the entire market for decades. Although some local stations relied on their own content and syndicated programming, the three main networks were available in almost every major market. Then cable television was introduced, and everything changed.

Unlike broadcast television, cable television doesn't rely on local television stations. A single cable company can provide hundreds of channels to an entire media market, and a new kind of television network was created to fill that void. Since there is no network of local stations, these content providers are sometimes referred to as cable channels instead of networks.

There are far more cable networks than traditional television networks, but they aren't freely available. Although traditional networks are available from cable and satellite television providers, cable channels aren't available via over the air broadcasts. That means the only way to watch any given cable network is to subscribe to cable television.

Cable Network Programming

The types of television programs that each channel provides can also differentiate cable channels from traditional networks. While traditional networks typically provide a wide variety of different television show formats and genres, a lot of cable channels fit into specific niches.

Some cable networks provide nothing but television shows for children, and others target genres like science fiction. There are also cable networks devoted to sports, news, and special interests like education. Other cable television channels specialize in broadcasting current or classic movies, but these channels often create their own original shows as well.

Cable Network Affiliates

Although cable channels don't utilize traditional television networks, it isn't a complete misnomer to refer to them as networks. On the local level, a cable television provider works in a similar way to a television station. Like an affiliate of a broadcast network, a cable television provider receives programming content from a central operation. They also rebroadcast that content to local viewers. The main difference is that each local cable provider rebroadcasts hundreds of channels instead of just one.
Since cable and satellite providers rebroadcast content from cable channels, they are sometimes referred to as affiliates. These affiliates effectively form the network that the cable channel uses to disseminate its programming to viewers.

Cable Network Availability

Since cable channels rely on affiliate networks, the availability of some channels is limited. If the cable company in your market doesn't carry a specific cable channel that you're looking for, then that channel may not be available in your area. In other cases, you may be able to subscribe to a different cable company. Some channels are also carried by satellite television providers.

Cable channel availability can also be affected by the type of cable package you subscribe to. Some channels are only available in premium channel packages, and there are also some cable networks that you have to subscribe to individually.