Wednesday, February 4, 2015

TV Glossary: "Bicycling"

In the 1970's and 1980's, satellite time was very expensive; much too expensive to use to distribute television programming to local stations. In order to get syndicated programming out to local stations, distributors used a system called "bicycling". Basically, they made a few copies of each episode and mailed a week's worth of episodes to the top television markets. The station was then instructed to mail the tapes to the next station in a different market. This process repeated until the last station on the list had received the tape. (typically in the smallest market, like Paducah) The tapes would then get sent back to the studio, pretty worn out by this time, having been used quite a bit.

This system is the main reason why game shows of the time had limits on how many times a contestant could compete on the show. Since the various stations were airing the episodes at different times and in no particular order, it would be confusing to have a multi-day winner. That's why Match Game and Match Game PM had different rules and were differentiated from each other.

As satellite time became less expensive, syndication distributors did away with "bicycling" and now beam all programming to local affiliates. This has allowed shows like Jeopardy to remove its five win limit for contestants and for producers to do a better job of preserving their television shows, since they no longer have to deal with worn out tapes.