O&O and Affiliates: What Owned and Operated Really Means

Learn More About How the Broadcasting Term O&O Is Used in Media

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An O&O is a shorthand broadcast term for an owned and operated broadcast television or radio station. Also known as owned and operated, owned and operated station or network o&o, the term is used when a broadcasting network runs its own local station.

O&O: Owned and Operated Broadcast Stations

The major commercial tv broadcasting networks — ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC — air their programming on hundreds of stations across the country, yet they only own a select few.

In major media markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the networks own their local stations. For ABC, that makes WABC in New York, KABC in Los Angeles and WLS in Chicago "O&O" stations, because the network owns and operates them.

Outside the top 25 markets, the vast majority of local stations are not owned by the networks, but by various media companies. Those stations are called network affiliates because they are bound to the network by contract.

Major media companies like Gannett, Belo, Cox, and Hearst own stations that are affiliates of a broadcasting network. Often, the same company will own a collection of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC affiliates so it can maximize its profits regardless of which network may be number one or number four.

Sometimes, media companies decide to switch a station to a different network when its affiliation contract expires. In the mid-1990s, Fox convinced several companies to move their stations to its network, which helped it boost its national Nielsen ratings.

How it Differs From Affiliates

In North America, the broadcasting industry refers to local broadcasters that are owned by a company other than the owner of the network, as a network affiliate or affiliated station. Affiliates can carry some or all of the lineup of television or radio programs of a network (an O&O, on the other hand, is owned directly by a parent network.)

However, it's important to note that informally even O&Os can be referred to as an affiliate since it's common to refer to any station that carries a particular network's programming as an affiliate. Sometimes even carrying such programming in a given market is referred to as being an "affiliation".

Rules and Regulations

It is the Federal Communications Commission in the United States that limits the number of network-owned stations and it is the affiliates that are left to carry network programming in other markets. O&Os tend to be in the largest media markets (for example, New York City and Los Angeles) but even the largest markets may have network affiliates instead of O&Os. 

Other countries follow their own federal rules and regulations when it comes to O&Os. For instance, Japan follows similar rules to the US, where the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications limits the number of network-owned commercial television stations as a percentage of total national market reach and so only four of the largest media markets (Kantō, Keihanshin, Chūkyō, and Fukuoka) tend to have O&Os. There is a heavy reliance on affiliates to carry their programming in other prefectures. 

Canada, on the other hand, has much more lenient rules regarding ownership of media, which is why most television stations (regardless of market size) are now O&Os of their own networks, with only a few true affiliates remaining in smaller cities.