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A regional variation generally refers to times when a radio station or television station simultaneously broadcasts different programmes, continuity or advertisements to different parts of its coverage area. This may be so as to provide programming specific to a particular region, such as local news or may be so as to allow advertisements to be targeted to a particular area.
Some regional variations are the consequence of a federal style television network or radio network where a local station is part of a larger broadcast network and broadcasts the network's programmes some of the time and its own programming the rest of the time. The latter is therefore sometimes considered a regional variation. Examples of this include the UK's ITV network throughout much of its history, and American network affiliate stations.
Regional variation is also a common term used in British television listings publications, such as magazines and newspapers, to show the different programmes broadcast in different areas of the country.
- 1 Technicalities of regional variations
- 2 Opt-out
- 3 By country
- 4 Variations in image and continuity in the UK
- 5 Regional variations in listings
- 6 Other instances
- 7 See also
- 8 External links
- 9 Notes
Technicalities of regional variations
Traditionally, regional variations depend on a network or service broadcasting over multiple transmitters. Typically a 'network' feed will originate from a central location, such as BBC Television Centre, and be fed to all transmitters. Local offices or regional contractors would then be said to opt out of this feed when they switch to feeding the transmitter(s) with locally originated content and to opt in when returning to a national feed. Opt-ins and opt-outs were often quite noticeable in earlier days for causing the picture distortion such as jumping and rolling as the feed was switched; such effects are still noticeable today, though less obvious.
Whilst the BBC originated its network feed from the same place (Television Centre) ITV in earlier days would originate its feed from the broadcaster which made the programme.
Satellite services such as Sky Digital often offer regional variations by transmitting duplicate feeds of the same station for each region traditionally covered by groups of transmitters as an arguably costly way to provide regional variations within an area covered by the same satellite. Both the BBC and ITV do this, as do Channel 4 and Channel Five for advertisements. The digital set top box will determine which version of the channel to supply based on a list of post codes corresponding to the details on the user's smart card.
Opt-out is a term used in broadcasting when a nation or region splits from the main national output. In the United Kingdom, BBC One Scotland, BBC One Northern Ireland and BBC One Wales often opt out of the main BBC One schedule in favour of regionally relevant programming.
In a similar manner, local television newsrooms present regional news following national news bulletins—the practice having been popularised by current affairs programmes Nationwide and Sixty Minutes—after which they would opt into the national programme again. Opting out was[when?] also common throughout telethons, such as Children in Need, where regions separate to transmit local coverage.
The term "opt-out" is a peculiarly British idiom when applied to broadcasting, while used to describe the occurrence of regional events in an otherwise national stream the term has fallen into technical misuse.[clarification needed] Of the British broadcasters, really only the BBC ever opts out within the proper technical meaning of the term and then only in its English regions.
An opt-out is the process of a regional entity inserting its output into a tributary of an otherwise complete national broadcast distribution feed, creating a local variation in output.
Being a non-commercial broadcaster, the BBC has no need to play out local commercial spots, thus a regional node will typically only output programme material during the local news. Rather than each region having to control or monitor output that is being relayed from a central source, the region will step back from the network, allowing the central source to directly feed its transmitters. The central source is a national feed, which is complete in itself including all continuity, timing, announcement and programme elements. The region interposes to broadcast its element locally, in place of a programme in the national feed, by bringing itself into the network (cold-opt) in preparation for the start of the regional element (warm-opt). 
Within BBC English Regions, the opt-out usually takes place within equipment located within the region's own central technical area. This is not always the case though; for instance the output from BBC Hull, which feeds the Belmont transmitter, is actually switched at BBC Leeds, and the Channel Islands opt-out occurs at Plymouth of the UK mainland, although the programme content comes from both Plymouth and Jersey. Considerable variation can exist between the signal paths for digital (DTT and DSat) and analogue transmissions, leading to great complexity in the opt-out logic.
Commercial broadcasters such as ITV, Channel 4 (with S4C) and Channel 5 distribute their programmes to regions complete with local advertising and regional programme variations. Regional programmes, although they may be produced in a particular region, are sent to a centralised play-out facility as contributions for insertion into the regional broadcast feed. BBC programmes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are broadcast from their own play-out facilities in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast, although receiving live and recorded programmes from London they continuously monitor their own output. Thus they do not actually "opt out".
Commercial television in Canada generally used a model similar to the U.S., with networks and affiliates. However, from the 1990s through the 2000s, beginning with CTV Television and its gradual takeover by Baton Broadcasting, Canada's major commercial networks were largely consolidated under their respective conglomerate owners; CTV, Global, City, and most of their respective stations are owned by Bell Media, Corus Entertainment, and Rogers Media respectively.
The major networks, including commercially funded public network CBC Television, have largely used consistent scheduling (besides time zone variations, and adjustments to allow for simultaneous substitution of syndicated programming carried by U.S. broadcast stations available from a nearby market), branding and on-air continuity, with little variation besides local newscasts and public affairs programs (for example, some CTV stations, especially in Western Canada, substitute the network's national morning show Your Morning for the local format CTV Morning Live). There are relatively few third-party affiliate stations of Canada's commercial networks, which typically follow the network's lineup in a major market with opt-outs for local newscasts. Corus-owned CTV affiliates substituted CTV News programs with Global News programs (and CHEX-TV-2 additionally branded as "Global Durham" despite otherwise being a CTV affiliate); the stations ultimately became Global stations after the affiliation expired. CJON-DT has more significant variations due to having sublicensed different types of programming from Global, CTV, and Yes TV.
Regional elements are inserted into the French public broadcaster France 3 (France Régions 3, or FR3 for short) by opting out from a national service broadcast from Paris.
Public television channel Rai Tre provides regional news programming.
In general, the programming lineup from a television network's flagship station (usually based in Metro Manila) is simulcast almost in its entirety across that network's regional stations. However, networks like ABS-CBN, PTV, and GMA have regional news programmes in selected parts of the country (each network decides how many different regional variations it wishes to have and which provinces constitute which viewing region). Previously, ABS-CBN's regional stations used to feature regional programmes beyond news; however, most of them have been cancelled due to cost-cutting measures and preparations for the impending digital switchover. Sometimes, whilst network programming is ongoing, stations may insert a ticker tape of advertisements from local/regional companies.
Although Sweden's public television channels - SVT1 and SVT2 - have regional variations; the actual amount of airtime allocated for regional opt-outs is very small and is only limited to news updates. During weekday mornings from 06.00 to 09.00 local time, these regional news updates are embedded into SVT's flagship morning news programme Morgonstudion. A longer regional news bulletin (approximately 13 minutes long) is shown at 18.30 on SVT1. A shorter five-minute update follows at 19.55 after Rapport SVT1. A final news update is shown at 21.45 after the main Aktuellt newscast on SVT2. SVT does not have opt-out programming on Saturdays.
The BBC has traditionally offered regional variations across many of its services. The Home Service and its successor Radio 4 provided regional variations until the early 1980s when Local Radio took over these responsibilities. BBC One and the BBC Television Service have provided variations in the English regions throughout most of their history, and continues to do so today (mainly News and current affairs programming). In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, BBC One has to a large degree been operated as a separate television channel, rather than a variant on BBC One as broadcast in England. BBC Two has in the past broadcast variations within the English regions, though now only has variations for Wales and Northern Ireland (BBC Two has ended the channel's Scottish variation on 17 February 2019 to give way to its new BBC Scotland channel that would launch a week afterwards). BBC Choice also briefly had regional variations for these areas.
ITV was originally established as a network of some 14 separate companies, each designated a region of coverage (see History of ITV). Each company provided a mixture of local programming for its own coverage area, as well as airing nationwide networked programmes (usually produced by one of the contractors). ITV has traditionally included more regional variations than the BBC, though since consolidation and majority ownership by ITV plc regional variations on the network are far fewer, and often no more than the minimum requirements as set by Ofcom.
Channel 4 and Channel 5 provide no regional variations for programming or continuity, but do sell localized advertising. A notable exception was S4C, a channel in Wales which broadcast in place of Channel 4, and primarily broadcast Welsh-language programming of interest to the local audience, as well as programming acquired from Channel 4 (but not always in pattern). Although S4C was a de facto regional variation of Channel 4, it was a separate channel in its own right. During the transition to digital television, Channel 4 became available over-the-air in Wales on Freeview alongside S4C, resulting in the channel dropping its non-Welsh programming.
Sky News and Sky1 also provide a variant of their stations for the Republic of Ireland, although specific Sky News coverage for the Republic of Ireland is extremely limited, due in part to the channel with Irish content closing on 3 November 2006, and Sky1's variant is purely an advertising opt-out.
In the United States, all broadcast television networks utilize a model wherein individual stations within a media market are affiliated with a specific network, in an agreement similar to a franchise. An affiliation gives the station the privilege to broadcast the network's national programming (which typically covers primetime programming, and in some cases may also include news programming, programs in other dayparts such as daytime and late-night, as well as sports broadcasts), incorporate the network's name and logo into their on-air brand, and sell blocks of local advertising time during network programs.
Each network has a group of stations that are owned and operated (O&O) by their respective parent company; they are more common in larger, major metropolitan markets such as Los Angeles and New York City, whose stations are traditionally considered the flagship stations of their respective network. As individual broadcasters are subject to a market cap limit to prevent concentration of media ownership, O&O stations are typically limited to key markets; the remainder of the network consists of affiliates owned by third-party broadcasters independent from the network's owner (including companies such as Hearst Television, Nexstar Media Group, and Tegna, Inc. among others). Networks typically restrict a media market (as defined by the Nielsen Company) to one affiliate each, but there have been exceptions in certain markets due to historical precedents, such as ABC affiliates WZZM and WOTV (whose signals do not sufficiently cover the entirety of West Michigan due to differing tower locations in comparison to other stations in the market).
Besides considerations for time zones, especially in regards to live programs and how they may impact scheduling of other programming, the schedule of network programming is generally consistent between affiliates. Networked programming contains national continuity and advertising, but affiliates are given time for local continuity and advertising. Programming outside of the network schedule is generally the responsibility of the individual station, and typically consists of local newscasts, syndicated programming acquired by the station, and other locally produced programs. Off-peak hours (such as late-night hours) are often programmed with infomercials and other forms of brokered programming, or burn-off and repeats of syndicated programs, as the majority of U.S. stations no longer sign off at the end of their broadcast day. Stations may, from time to time, preempt network programs to air special programming of local interest (such as sporting events and coverage of local celebrations); affiliation contracts may contain restrictions on often this can be done, and may require the displaced programming to either be moved to a sister station or digital subchannel (the latter becoming more common since the transition to digital terrestrial television), or pre-empted to a different time period.
Due to these practices, the major English-language networks do not have a full, centralized schedule (although, in the event of breaking news situations, the major networks do have—to an extent—the ability to interrupt programming on all affiliates for special reports), and the types of programming carried by each affiliate of a network can vary considerably. Due to differing market dynamics, Spanish-language networks such as Telemundo and Univision do have a centralized network schedule with opt-out periods for local programs.
PBS, the country's main public television network, is composed similarly of "member stations" operated by non-profit entities, such as media foundations and educational institutions. PBS provides a common schedule of networked primetime programming, but member stations are generally given flexibility in how programming is scheduled outside of primetime, which may consist of other PBS programs (such as the network's PBS Kids lineup) and local productions. Member stations may contribute to programs being produced for the network schedule. PBS does not have any owned-and-operated stations, but has several de facto flagships in major markets which are well known for their involvement in networked programming, such as WNET-TV in New York, WGBH-TV in Boston, and WETA-TV in Washington (which produces the flagship national news program PBS NewsHour). Unlike the other networks, which rigidly grant exclusivity within a market, some markets may contain multiple PBS stations; the network coordinates a "Program Differentiation Plan" that promotes variances in programming between the primary and secondary member stations.
A more straightforward equivalent to a regional variation in North American broadcasting is a semi-satellite—a co-owned re-broadcaster of a television station that is used to extend its range into a different portion of a market (typically if the main signal is not strong enough to reach it), or a different one entirely, but has more variation in programming than a straight rebroadcaster. Semi-satellites typically share the majority of their programming with a parent station (which may vary to account for syndication rights), but may carry a different on-air name, advertising tailored to the region, and opt-out of the parent station's news programs (either partially or entirely) to present a local newscast specific to their region. An example is WDAY-TV in Fargo, North Dakota, which serves Grand Forks with a separate station, WDAZ-TV. WDAZ previously had a separate news department which produced evening and late-night newscasts originating from Grand Forks, but otherwise contributed reporting to regional newscasts produced from Fargo by WDAY. In December 2018, WDAZ's separate newscasts were discontinued.
In some regions, a larger-scale group of co-owned stations may be linked together as a regional network in a similar fashion—such as the Montana Television Network (a group of CBS affiliates across Montana), NBC North Dakota, Forum Communications' KBMY in Bismarck and KMCY in Minot (which are largely fed from WDAY), as well as various groups of PBS members.
Variations in image and continuity in the UK
Until 2002, ITV's continuity was largely separate in each region of the country, even when announcing broadcasts that were the same throughout the country. The logo of the regional contractor would typically be displayed instead of, or far more prominently than, any 'ITV' logo, before programmes and during trailers. Separate announcers would also be used.
With the consolidation of many ITV companies throughout the 1990s, continuity was often shared between regions as a cost-cutting measure, with the Granada plc companies sharing a continuity announcer (but with different logos) from the late 1990s until all ITV Plc regions shared the same continuity from 2002 onwards. UTV and STV still continue with separate continuity most of the time, with Channel Television occasionally showing its own pre-recorded continuity in place of the network ITV branded material.
The BBC also provided regional continuity during the 1970s, often also for nationally networked programming, but this ended in around 1980. Regional continuity is used between 6 am and 2 am provided by BBC Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Northern Ireland for BBC One and BBC Two, outside these times the channels use the main BBC One and BBC Two continuity. In England, BBC One continuity is simply referred to as BBC One on air at all times except preceding local programming where all regions except BBC London use pre-recorded announcements. BBC London uses the main BBC announcers for its local programmes. BBC Two is a single channel in England so uses national continuity at all times.
Regional variations in listings
Magazines and national newspapers print different editions of their TV listings for different areas – some just for the four British nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while others produce separate editions for the regions within England also. For example, the "Radio Times" produces six different editions in total (three of them in the English regions), while its oldest rival "TV Times" now produces only four; newspaper supplements are usually printed in just one edition for the whole of the UK.
A regional variations column shows programmes in areas which differ from those in the main listings columns. Generally, only programming that differs from the main schedule is listed rather than listing the entire schedule of each regional area verbatim, much of which would be identical. It is these programmes that make up regional variations. Sometimes all UK regional variations are listed, generally when only one copy of a publication is made for every area, but often only adjoining regions are listed as variations, as is the case in the "Radio Times".
In English regional and UK-wide editions, the main BBC One or ITV column shows programmes in the London region, with other regions (and nations) in the regional variations column. S4C is also often listed here. In Welsh and Scottish editions, adjoining English regions are usually listed. In Northern Ireland, some services from the Republic of Ireland are often listed as regional variations, although they are not.
Many programme services on North American cable systems are subject to inserts of regional advertisements inserted by the local cable operator.
- The terms "cold-opt" and "warm-opt" are not the generally used BBC terms which are "hard-opt" and "soft-opt" – care needs to be taken with these terms, as the normal IT conventions of hard and soft are reversed within colloquial BBC lexicon.
- Kovach, Joelle (14 August 2018). "CHEX-TV newscasts rebranding as CHEX News on Global Peterborough". The Peterborough Examiner. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
- ralphierce (25 June 2018). "ABS-CBN Regional Cancels Agri Tayo Dito, MagTV Na". From the Tube. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
- "WDAY takes over 5 p.m. news in Grand Forks". Grand Forks Herald. 15 July 2014. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
- "WDAY Launching Statewide Morning Newscast". TVSpy.com. Retrieved 16 July 2014.
- "WDAZ to merge broadcasts with WDAY". Grand Forks Herald. 30 November 2018. Retrieved 22 January 2019.