Learn About the Role of a Network Affiliate

NBC affiliate NBC 10 News Van

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In the United States broadcasting industry, a network affiliate sometimes referred to just as "affiliate," is a local station owned by a company other than the network. The affiliate carries many of the same shows or radio programs as the core media network. They are different than owned and operated stations, which are owned by the core media network. 

How Affiliates Work

Stations that carry a network's programming sign a contractual agreement with the network. The contract outlines key parts of the relationship and requirements for the affiliate, such as certain quotas. The agreements typically last for between three and five years, though they can be much longer. 

While many networks and affiliates maintain their relationships for very long times, sometimes a network will remove its programming and go to another station they think will be more prosperous. The five core commercial broadcast television networks are ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the CW. These networks compensate stations with a portion of national advertising revenue. 


In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the number of network-owned stations in market reach. Therefore, owned and operated networks, rather than affiliate stations, are often located in only the largest markets, such as New York City. They rely on affiliates for the rest of their reach. 

Stations often broadcast the full programming lineup from the core network, but they are not obligated to do that. They can decide to air shows outside of the prime time slot, purchase other programming to fill their schedules and even air shows that were not produced by the main network. Some affiliates also choose to air local events, such as college or high school football, rather than scheduled programming. 

Public Broadcasting Service

Unlike the five major networks, PBS is not actually a network. Instead, it is a program distributor that provides content and services to members, rather than affiliates. The member stations are responsible for the local content, such as their news shows and local event coverage. 

In a traditional network and affiliate relationship, affiliates pay portions of their advertising revenue to the network to have the right to show network programs. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) works very differently and aims to change the programming business.

PBS member stations pay for the shows acquired and ran by the national chapter. Because of this, PBS stations have more autonomy than commercially-owned stations. 

The majority of PBS funding comes from grants and fundraising. They solicit donations from individuals, corporations and hold telethons during their programming. 

Changes to Networks and Affiliates

Digital and online-only content has been challenging the network and affiliate model. However, local television news programs remain the number one source of information for individuals. 

With growing competition from digital stations, local stations are having a more difficult time raising revenue. In some cases, they owe as much as 60% of their revenue to the networks, making it difficult for local stations to prosper. As a result, local programming is increasingly switching to online formats, signaling changes in the network and affiliate relationship.