Job Growth in Television: Cable versus Broadcast, 1958-99

By Toto, Dominic | Monthly Labor Review, August 2000 | Go to article overview

Job Growth in Television: Cable versus Broadcast, 1958-99


Toto, Dominic, Monthly Labor Review


As the television industry matured over the last 50 years, technological improvements, increased demand for video programming, and the easing of some regulations helped shift employment from broadcast television to cable and other pay television services

Broadcast television made its public debut at the New York World's Fair in 1939, dramatically changing the way people live, work, and spend their free time.(1) A decade later, community antenna television, an early form of cable television, spread broadcast signals over rural Pennsylvania and Oregon.(2) Currently, nearly all homes in the United States with televisions have access to some form of cable television, with approximately two-thirds of U.S. households subscribing to a local cable service.(3)

For more than 40 years, employment in all areas of television program delivery has risen substantially. During the first half of this period, radio and television broadcasting accounted for most of the job gains, while during the second hall more of the growth occurred in cable and other pay television services. Throughout the period, changing legislation has greatly affected the way video service providers conduct their business, contributing to the trend toward more rapid growth in cable services. In addition to key regulatory and policy changes, growing consumer demand for television entertainment and related technological innovations have helped boost employment levels in all video-providing industries.

This article compares the employment history of cable and other pay television services with that of radio and television broadcasting; it also reviews some of the more significant regulatory and economic changes that have occurred over the period. The chronology is broken into three phases: The first phase (1958-72) covers the early years up to when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) introduced new rules regarding cable television in March 1972.(4) The second phase (1972-84) covers the subsequent period of rapid employment growth in the television industry up to when Congress enacted the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. The third phase--during which employment growth slowed down considerably and additional regulatory and economic changes took place, covers the period from 1984 to 1999.(5) The first part of the analysis focuses on employment during the study period, and the second half looks at some of the technological changes that have shaped the industry since its inception.

The television industry

According to the 1987 Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) system, the primary function of television broadcasting stations (SIC 4833) is "broadcasting visual programs by television to the public"(6) Cable and other pay television services (SIC 484), including satellite services, distribute "visual and textual television programs, on a subscription or fee basis."(7) Broadcast and cable establishments may also produce taped television programs, but it is not their main line of business. (Firms mainly producing taped television or motion pictures are classified in the services industry--specifically, in SIC 7812, motion picture and video tape production.)

What the workers do. The workforces of the two video distribution markets differ significantly. Table 1 shows the top 10 occupations in cable and other pay television services (SIC 484) and in radio and television broadcasting stations (SIC 483).(8) Installers and repairers (21 percent) and customer service representatives (18 percent) stand out as the top two job categories in cable and pay television, together making up nearly two-fifths of employment in the industry. In radio and television broadcasting, however, employment is concentrated among announcers (19 percent), advertising sales agents (10 percent), and broadcast technicians (9 percent). That announcers occupy the top of this list most likely reflects the "radio" portion of the industry more than the "television" portion. …

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