US & Canada

United States profile - Media

President Barack Obama meets comedy show host Jon Stewart Image copyright Getty Images

The US has the most highly-developed mass media in the world. Its dramas, comedies, soap operas, animations, music videos and films have a global audience and are part of the staple fare of broadcasters worldwide.

TV is America's most popular medium. ABC, CBS and NBC led the pack for decades until the mass take-up of cable and satellite and the arrival of the Fox network. Fox News Channel is the dominant US cable news network.

But viewing habits are changing and the proportion of consumed content accounted for by live broadcast TV is falling. The US leads the world in the adoption of over-the-top (OTT) video-on-demand, delivered by broadband internet.

There are around 10,000 commercial radio stations. In cities, there are services to satisfy almost every taste. Subscription satellite radio offers hundreds of channels and has millions of customers.

"The US has a free, diverse, and constitutionally protected press," says Washington-based Freedom House (2019). It says President Donald Trump has been "harshly critical of the mainstream media, routinely using inflammatory language to accuse them of bias and mendacity".

The NGO says news coverage has become more polarised, with some outlets and well-known commentators "providing a consistently right- or left-leaning perspective".

Public broadcasting

Public broadcasting is partly government-funded, but also supported by private grants. Universities and colleges operate outlets. National Public Radio (NPR) - with hundreds of affiliate stations - offers news, debate and music without advertising.

Public TV services operated by PBS have a mission to provide "quality" and educational programming.

The government sponsors TV, radio and online outlets aimed at audiences outside the US, including in the former Soviet bloc, the Middle East and Asia, and Cuba.

There are more than 1,000 daily newspapers in the US, most of them with a local or regional readership, but they have been hit by online competition.

"The industry's financial fortunes and subscriber base have been in decline since the mid-2000s, and website audience traffic, after some years of growth, has levelled off," Pew Research Center said in 2019.

The US is the home of the internet. Nearly 293 million Americans are online (InternetWorldStats.com, December 2018), comprising 89% of the population.

There are 230 million active social media users (We Are Social, 2019). YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are the leading platforms.

Freedom House says internet access is unrestricted, but the leading social platforms have "struggled to control false or hateful material without harming freedom of expression or their own business interests".

The press

Television

  • ABC - major commercial network
  • CBS - major commercial network
  • NBC - major commercial network
  • Fox - major commercial network
  • CNN - pioneer of 24-hour rolling TV news, operates domestic and international streams
  • MTV - pioneer of music television
  • HBO (Home Box Office) - pay TV network; originator of some of American TV's most critically-acclaimed programmes
  • PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) - public TV, serves some 350 non-commercial member stations

Radio

External broadcasting

News agencies