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In Murica the United States, we have the Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific time zones.

For live events, like sports, the starting time for television broadcast would be different for all time zones - 9 PM Eastern, 8 PM Central, 6 PM Pacific - so that it's live for all viewers.

Regular taped shows usually start at the same time in the East and Pacific time zones (i.e. 9:00 PM) but the Central time is usually an hour earlier so it's on the same time as Eastern (8:00 PM Central).

This is why we have questions like: What does 7c mean in this poster?

Why is this? Do the Central Time people go to bed an hour earlier? Or is this based on old technology where it wasn't worth the effort to delay everything for one hour?

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Typically, there are two feeds: a Eastern/Central feed, and a Pacific feed. Mountain time usually gets a combination of the two, or it's own feed, one hour delayed from Eastern.

You can read more here.

It notes that Eastern time is the "de facto" for the nation, since our capital, largest city, and one half of the population reside there.

The page has pretty much all the information you would want, but essentially things are split into two different portions (E/C/M and P/Hawaiian/Alaskan) to accomodate the time changes, but not to convolute things with individual airings. It saves money for the TV networks.

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In the early days of television networks, it was VERY expensive to "tape-delay" programs for other time zones. So, very early in the game they decided to treat the Eastern and Central time zones as one audience to save money. But the Pacific time zone was too far away (and too important an audience) to treat this way. So they were forced to do tape-delay for the Pacific time-zone. And the Mountain time zone was too small an audience to worry about, so TV stations could "cherry-pick" whether to use the Pacific feed or the Eastern feed.

In this era, it is trivial to "time-shift" broadcast programs and network feeds. But apparently people in the Central time zone have grown acustomed to having their schedule an hour early so they can get to bed at a sensible hour.

I wrote a "behind the scenes" account of the west-coast network for CBS operation at the bottom of this page: http://www.j-shea.com/TVCity/Anecdotes.html

  • the Mountain time zone was too small an audience to worry about, so TV stations could "cherry-pick" whether to use the Pacific feed or the Eastern feed. Is this why I'd often see times listed for Eastern, Pacific and Central and no mention of Mountain? – Tom Apr 3 '16 at 17:44
  • I seem to recall some ABC advertisements (in the 80's) stating "8, 7 Central/Mountain" ... and I believe some major affiliate in mountain had the responsibility of acting as that timezone's distributor. For example, a Denver station may have rebroadcast the network's feed to Phoenix, Salt Lake, Albuquerque, etc. In addition, I'm sure local affiliates in those markets have gotten accustomed to having their local programming (and thus advertising money) at certain times. – sonnik May 3 '17 at 20:28
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Central time zone has a lot of farmland. People get up earlier to work, and go to bed earlier. Really though, tv ratings and times of high traffic for channels proved to be earlier in that area than in other, more urban areas of the country. So, stations decided to move their big shows an hour earlier to take advantage of the higher amount of viewers at that time of day.

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    I wouldn't say the "farmland" explanation holds up here without some sort of reference. Before satellites, there was heavy reliance on terrestrial repeaters. Thus, it made sense for the Central time zone to just broadcast at the time time as easter, as @Richard Crowley states. – sonnik May 3 '17 at 20:25

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