Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Switching Channels

Switching Channels

Organization and Change in TV Broadcasting

Richard E. Caves

ISBN 9780674018785

Publication date: 09/15/2005

Media critics invariably disparage the quality of programming produced by the U.S. television industry. But why the industry produces what it does is a question largely unasked. It is this question, at the crux of American popular culture, that Switching Channels explores.

In the past twenty-five years, the expansion of cable and satellite systems has transformed television. Richard Caves examines the economics of this phenomenon--and the nature and logic of the broadcast networks' response to the incursion of cable TV, especially the shift to inexpensive unscripted game and "reality" shows and "news" magazines. An explanation of these changes, Caves argues, requires an understanding of two very different sectors: the "creative industry," which produces programs; and the commercial channels, which bring them to viewers. His book shows how distributors' judgment of profitability determines the quality and character of the programs the creative industry produces. This determination, writes Caves, depends on the number and types of viewers that various programs can attract and advertisers' willingness to pay for their attention, as well as the organization of the networks that package programs, the distributors that transmit them, and the deals these parties strike with one another.


  • This book is a successful effort to subject to economic analysis an industry that has undergone substantial organizational changes within a short time and that is marked by quite peculiar structural properties and production practices. Caves ingeniously sorts out the industry's peculiarities and reads the economic meaning and implications of its "tribal customs."

    —Dick Netzer, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University


  • Richard E. Caves is Nathaniel Ropes Research Professor of Political Economy at Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 376 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author