The television industry comprises many players. While the terms describing the roles of the players are not standardized, the following framework offers a way to understand the relationships among industry participants. Individual corporations may operate in one or more of the following categories:
- Content owners hold the copyrights to television programs, movies, and sporting events. Content owners may create the content themselves, or pay producers to create the content for them. Generally, content owners license or sell the copyrights to television programs to television networks or broadcast television stations. Examples of content owners include television studios, movie studios, and sports teams. In addition, television networks and broadcast stations may own the copyrights to programs they produce themselves.
- Packagers assemble various television series, movies, and sporting events. Generally, packagers license content from content owners and resell it to cable operators, satellite operators, broadcast television stations, and OVDs. They may also sell packages of programs directly to consumers. Examples of packagers include cable networks, broadcast networks, and certain types of online distributors of video programming. Broadcast stations, by assembling programming from broadcast television networks, studios, sports leagues, and their own news departments, also operate as packagers.
- Distributors deliver television programs to consumers over their own facilities. They purchase from packagers the rights to "publicly perform" television programming, as defined in copyright law, and to retransmit that programing to viewers. Congress has defined a class of distributors, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), that have certain rights and obligations under copyright and communications laws. These include the right and/or obligation to retransmit the signals of broadcast television stations. MVPDs distribute programs, including the retransmitted signals of broadcast stations, via cables, telephone lines, or satellite dishes on the viewer's premises. Thus, MVPDs comprise cable operators and satellite operators. Because broadcast television stations can deliver programming directly to viewers via over-the-air broadcast signals, they also act as distributors, but are not MVPDs.