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The Big Three Television Networks are the three traditional commercial broadcast (over the air) television networks in the United Statesmarker: ABC, CBS and NBC. The United States' public television network, PBS, is not included.


NBC and CBS were founded as radio networks in the 1920s. They gradually began experimental television stations in the 1940s. ABC was spun off from NBC in 1943 when the US government determined that NBC's two-network setup was anticompetitive.

All three networks began regular television broadcasts in the 1940s. NBC began operations in 1946, followed by CBS and ABC in 1948. The three networks originally controlled only a few local television stations, but they swiftly affiliated with other stations to cover the entire United States.

Competition from other networks

For most of US television history, the Big Three dominated US television, controlling up to 99% of television broadcasting. During the 1950s and lasting until the early 1990s, every hit series appearing in the top 20 Nielsen Ratings was aired by one of the Big Three Networks. There were attempts by other companies, such as the Overmyer Network, to enter the television medium, but other than the DuMont Television Network all lasted for brief periods. The prohibitive cost of starting a broadcast network, coupled with the difficulty of competing with the massive distribution of the Big Three Networks, led to the downfall of almost all new companies. Those that did have the resources to compete, such as Canadamarker's CTV Television Network (which briefly attempted an American expansion via WNYP-26marker in Buffalo, New York, now a religious station), were forced off the air through legal threats. A viable "fourth network" would not again become competitive with the Big Three until Fox was founded in 1986.

Today, the "Big Three" control only a (relatively) small portion of the market, estimated at a combined 32% in 2005. With broadcast competitors such as Fox, The CW, and MyNetworkTV, satellite and cable companies, the Big Three's market share has dwindled considerably.

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