Prime Time Access Rule (PTAR) was instituted by the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) to restrict the amount of network programming that
local television stations owned by or affiliated with a network
may air during the evening. Prime time is normally from 7:00 P.M.
to 11:00 P.M. in the Eastern and Pacific time zones, and from 6:00
P.M. to 10:00 P.M. in the Central and Mountain time zones.
the 1960s, the networks' programs dominated prime time schedules
of network stations throughout the United States, and reruns of
old network shows dominated schedules of independent (non-network)
television stations. The FCC began to investigate this virtual monopoly
in 1965, and issued its initial PTAR in 1970. The rule has undergone
several modifications since, and the FCC reexamines PTAR periodically.
there are over 200 television markets, metropolitan areas ranked
by population. The number one market is New York, followed by Los
Angeles, and Chicago. The current PTAR applies only to network owned
or network affiliated television stations in the 50 largest markets.
The rule restricts these stations from airing more than three hours
of network programming during the four hour prime time block each
evening and establishes the first hour of prime time as the "access
hour." In practice, the networks provide only three hours of programming
to affiliates in all 200 plus markets. They do so because they are
unable to make a profit selling network time for commercials that
would only appear in smaller markets.
Networks normally provide 22 hours of network programming weekly,
three hours Monday through Saturday, and four on Sunday. Sunday
includes an extra hour because feature films, news and public affairs,
and family programs qualify as exemptions from the rule. There are
also exceptions made for fast breaking live news events and runovers
of live broadcasts of sports contests. In some local television
markets, the half-hour network evening newscast is aired during
primetime because this qualifies as another exemption if the local
affiliate broadcasts a one hour local newscast immediately preceding
the network newscast.
current PTAR also prevents Top 50 market network owned or affiliated
stations from airing off--network programs during the access hour.
Off-network programs are old episodes of shows originally broadcast
on the network (e.g. The Cosby Show) that are sold as packages to
local stations in smaller markets and non-network stations in larger
markets. This part of PTAR was enacted originally to encourage more
locally produced shows, and to increase opportunities for smaller
independent production companies to sell original programs to local
stations. Prior to PTAR, almost all network programming was produced
by major studios or the networks themselves. In practice, and in
spite of the rule, there is very little locally produced access
programming, and the major portion of access programs produced by
independent producers are inexpensive game shows.
FCC is examining PTAR again in response to an appeal for eliminating
PTAR by the major networks. In recent years, the networks' share
of the national primetime audience has shrunk because of many more
channel options available to television viewers via cable or satellite.
The Prime Time Access Rule will continue to be modified periodically.
Whether or not it will be totally eliminated cannot be predicted
because of the many other factors affecting television programming
and the broadcast industry itself.
Bill. "FCC Takes Cautious Step To Alter A Prime-Time Rule." New
York Times, 7 October 1994.
Michael. "The Escalating War Over PTAR." MEDIAWEEK (New York),
14 March 1994.
Harry A. "'The Great Debate' on PTAR." Broadcasting & Cable
(Washington, D.C.), 30 January 1995.
"PTAR Pros And Cons." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington, D.C.),
13 March 1995.
Chris. "The End is Near (or far) for PTAR." Broadcasting & Cable
(Washington, D.C.), 17 July 1995.
See also Allocation;
Communications Commission; License;