Though both the United States and Great Britain have seen a steady decline in TV viewership in the age of digital media, there are, nonetheless, some very notable differences between the two countries’ television practices, standards and traditions. Here are five differences between British and American television.
1. The number of commercials
The United States is notorious for its, shall we say, generous use of advertising up and down the country. Nowhere is this more true than on television, where commercial breaks seem to occur, on average, every five minutes – disrupting the continuity of programming to an unforgivable degree. In Britain, ads are far less frequent – typically at intervals of either 15 or 30 minutes. Of course, BBC programming (in the UK only) is not actually allowed to feature advertising, with the compromise being that television owners must buy that which is discussed in number 2.
2. TV License
A TV license (licence in British English) is mandatory for UK households where television programs are watched as they are broadcast. Virtually all of the fee helps to maintain quality programming from the BBC, across its radio, television, and internet outlets. In the United States, however, no such fee is required and public broadcasters such as PBS rely on public donations and company sponsorship to generate annual funds in excess of $400 million.
3. Nudity and profanity
While both countries place rigorous restrictions on what they deem “obscene” programming, Britain adopts a rather more relaxed approach to censorship than the United States. Firstly, Offcom (Britain’s version of the FCC) allows nudity and profanity to be aired on terrestrial television after 9pm, while such content is available only after 10pm (a source of much debate, given the various time zones) in the United States. Meanwhile, prior to its so-called safe harbor, even fairly mild profanity will be bleeped out in the United States, whereas words like bloody, bastard and Goddamn will often be aired before 9pm in the UK.
4. Comedies: number of episodes per season
One huge difference is the number of episodes afforded to comedy series. While shows like 30 Rock, The Office (American) and House boast more than 20 episodes during an average season, British comedies are typically subject to just six or seven episodes. Indeed, some of the greatest comedy smashes of all time – such as Fawlty Towers, The Office (British) and I’m Alan Partridge each comprised of just 12 episodes over two seasons (note: The Office also featured two Christmas episodes).
5. Popularity of Soap Operas
While the popularity of soap operas has been in decline in both countries for the past 20 years, the genre still supplies the most watched programs on British television. With an average of 10 million nightly viewers, Coronation Street is watched by twice the number that tune in – over the course of a week – to watch The Young and the Restless in the United States. And while Y and R has a virtual monopoly on the American soap opera genre, British television is home to not just Coronation Street but other highly popular soaps such as Emmerdale and Eastenders.