How Many TV Channels Are There in the US?

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What To Know

  • The USA has 1,775 TV stations and 1,758 unique TV networks as of 2021.
  • Free-To-Air TV channels broadcast without encryption or fees, while Free-To-View channels are encoded, often with geographical restrictions.
  • Popular US TV networks include CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox, with Fox News being the most-watched.

Curious about how many TV channels there are in the USA? With a plethora of options to explore, we’ve pinpointed that the USA boasts 1,775 TV stations and 1,758 unique TV networks. Dive in to unravel the distinction between them.

What Counts as a TV Channel?

A girl chosing TV channel to see

Before we can find out how many TV channels there are in the USA, we first have to define a “TV channel.”

This may sound silly, but the definition of a TV channel is actually more complicated than it seems at first glance.

In terms of viewing, a TV channel is a frequency you change your TV to. This allows you to watch the video and audio relayed through the TV signals.

However, when it comes to counting all the different TV channels in the USA, a TV channel can have various meanings.

A television channel typically refers to a television network or station.

A television network is a company that streams television content, which is either licensed from another network or created by the network itself.

It typically has its own television station for its headquarters. Large networks usually transmit their content to affiliate TV stations for areas outside of its range.

A television station broadcasts TV signals for a certain area. 

They can create their own content, such as local news channels, but, most of the time, they stream content made by bigger television networks – whether exclusively or in addition to their original content.

As you can see, this can make it quite difficult to count how many TV channels there are, since many are just TV stations relaying signals from a TV network based elsewhere.

Counting TV channels based on the simplest definition of a TV channel would only result in the repetition of content.

Therefore, if your goal is to know how many different TV channels there are in the USA that show content unique to each channel, it’s best to count the number of TV networks.

How Do TV Channels Work in the US?

TV channels in the US vary from state to state and city to city.

There are two main kinds of TV in the US: 

  • Broadcast
  • Multichannel. 

Broadcast TV stations use VHF or UHF frequencies to transmit over the air, and anyone with an antenna and a tuner can receive them for free from local TV station affiliates.  

Multichannel TV providers offer a wide range of channels through cable, satellite, or streaming services, and they require a subscription or a fee to access them. With the multichannel, everyone will get the same national channels (e.g. ESPN, Discovery, CNN, etc).

In different parts of the U.S., the channel numbers can change, and you’ll also receive advertisements that are specific to your region. (source)

The New Type of TV Channel: Streaming Service

Broadcast TV and multichannel TV have been available for decades, not centuries. Nowadays, many households in the U.S. no longer use traditional broadcast or multichannel services. 

Instead, most families have switched to streaming services such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, Fubo TV, Hulu+ Live TV, and Direct TV. 

These streaming services provide enhanced image quality, built-in recording capabilities, and the flexibility to watch content on your phone, laptop, or streaming devices, as long as you have an internet connection.

List of Most Popular TV Networks in the US


Source from Wikipedia

Channels Number of households Viewable Language













The CW






Scrippt News






Free Internet TV Channels You Can Watch Online



Free TV Channels by State

For a comprehensive list of free TV channels by state, you can follow Channel Master’s guide, which provides a full list of states and their respective TV channels.

How Many TV Channels Are There in the USA?

Channels on TV in the USA

Now that we understand what “TV channel” actually refers to, let’s take a look at how many TV channels there are in the USA.

If we define the number of TV channels as the number of TV stations in the United States, then we find that, as of 2019, there are actually 1,775 television stations across the country!

However, recall that some TV stations are simply relaying TV signals from other, bigger stations located in different areas.

So, if you want to find out how many unique TV channels there are, you have to define the number of TV channels as the number of TV networks.

Once you do this, you will find that, as of 2021, there are 1,758 broadcast television networks in the United States.

What Is a Free-To-Air TV Channel?

A person watching a TV channel

What if you want to watch TV for free?

In such a situation, an FTA TV channel, often known as a free-to-air channel, is what you’re looking for.

A FTA TV channel is a TV channel that broadcasts content without any encryption and any fee or subscription required.

You will only need to pay to watch an FTA TV channel if the service that delivers it to you requires a subscription. 

For example, if you watch the content through cable or satellite television, you must pay the TV service company.

FTA TV channels usually fall into five groups: commercial, educational, religious, shopping, and Spanish channels. 

What Is a Free-To-View TV Channel?

A Free-To-View TV channel, or an FTV TV channel, is free to watch, just like FTA channels.

The only difference is that FTV channels are encoded for protection. The encoding may also limit them to certain geographical areas, such as local news stations.

How Can I Find Free TV Channels in My Area?

A woman enjoys TV channels

If you want to watch FTA or FTV channels, the best way to find the ones in your area is through the use of online tools.

Both Channel Master and Go Mohu have pages that list all of the free TV channels in the US. 

Channel Master also has a page where you can view the free TV channels according to the state you live in.

Which US TV channels are the most watched?

Lastly, you may be interested to find out what the most watched TV stations in the USA are.

If that is the case, then here’s your answer!

As of 2021, the leading TV networks (in no particular order) include CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, Fox News, ESPN, MSNBC, Univision, HGTV, and Hallmark.

Fox News, in particular, is the most frequently watched TV channel in the country.

A woman watchs TV in her living room


The simplest definition of a TV channel is a frequency that relays TV signals.

A TV channel can also be defined as a TV network that streams unique content or a TV station, which relays signals – usually from bigger TV networks based in different areas.

The number of TV stations in the USA is 1,775 as of 2019.

The number of TV networks is 1,758 as of 2021.

A Free-To-Air TV channel is free to watch and lacks encryption.

A Free-To-View TV channel is free to watch but is encoded and typically geo-restricted.

To find free TV channels in your area, you can use Channel Master and Go Mohu.

The most popular TV channels in the USA are CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, Fox News, ESPN, MSNBC, Univision, HGTV, and Hallmark.

We hope this article answered all of your questions!

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