In countries where most networks broadcast identical, centrally originated content to all of their stations and where most individual television transmitters therefore operate only as large "repeater stations", the terms "television network", "television channel" (a numeric identifier or radio frequency) and "television station" have become mostly interchangeable in everyday language, with professionals in television-related occupations continuing to make a differentiation between them. Within the industry, a tiering is sometimes created among groups of networks based on whether their programming is simultaneously originated from a central point, and whether the network master control has the technical and administrative capability to take over the programming of their affiliates in real-time when it deems this necessary – the most common example being during national breaking news events.
In North America in particular, many television networks available via cable and satellite television are branded as "channels" because they are somewhat different from traditional networks in the sense defined above, as they are singular operations – they have no affiliates or component stations, but instead are distributed to the public via cable or direct-broadcast satellite providers. Such networks are commonly referred to by terms such as "specialty channels" in Canada or "cable networks" in the U.S.
A network may or may not produce all of its own programming. If not, production companies (such as Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Television) can distribute their content to the various networks, and it is common that a certain production firm may have programs that air on two or more rival networks. Similarly, some networks may import television programs from other countries, or use archived programming to help complement their schedules.
Some stations have the capability to interrupt the network through the local insertion of television commercials, station identifications and emergency alerts. Others completely break away from the network for their own programming, a method known as regional variation. This is common where small networks are members of larger networks. The majority of commercial television stations are self-owned, even though a variety of these instances are the property of an owned-and-operated television network. The commercial television stations can also be linked with a noncommercial educational broadcasting agency. It is also important to note that some countries have launched national television networks, so that individual television stations can act as common repeaters of nationwide programs.
On the other hand, television networks also undergo the impending experience of major changes related to cultural varieties. The emergence of cable television has made available in major media markets, programs such as those aimed at American bi-cultural Latinos. Such a diverse captive audience presents an occasion for the networks and affiliates to advertise the best programming that needs to be aired.
This is explained by author Tim P. Vos in his abstract A Cultural Explanation of Early Broadcast, where he determines targeted group/non-targeted group representations as well as the cultural specificity employed in the television network entity. Vos notes that policymakers did not expressly intend to create a broadcast order dominated by commercial networks. In fact, legislative attempts were made to limit the network's preferred position.
As to individual stations, modern network operations centers usually use broadcast automation to handle most tasks. These systems are not only used for programming and for video server playout, but use exact atomic time from Global Positioning Systems or other sources to maintain perfect synchronization with upstream and downstream systems, so that programming appears seamless to viewers.