Why (in USA) is Eastern Time Zone the default?

As someone who lives in the Central Time Zone, I notice a lot of Eastern Time Zone bias.

For example, when the TV networks I watch (especially cable channels) want to alert the viewer to when their shows will be on, they often say something like “The Daily Show is on at 11:00… Eastern. 10:00 Central.” That’s fine, I guess, since the Eastern Time Zone may have more people in it than the Central Time Zone, so a slight preference (their times shown first) is perhaps to be expected. However, I notice a lot of cable channels leaving off the last half of this announcement, instead saying (or showing in words on the screen), “The Daily Show is on at 11:00.”

So, basically, the cable channels are deliberately not telling me the correct time for any of their shows. After a while, one gets used to automatically subtracting an hour from any time given by the TV set… but that can be a problem too, since the local channels are smart enough to tell the viewers the correct time for their programs. So, if the TV tells me that a show is on at 8:00, I have to first think to myself whether or not this is a local channel or not… and if not, then I have to subtract an hour.


And I know it doesn’t have to be this way. I don’t get announcements about what time the programs come on in the other continental USA time zones (Mountain and Pacific), so I know they can be more specific if they want to. I guess one of Cecil’s columns mentioned that TV channels tend to send out their programs at two times: one for Central & Eastern, and one for Mountain & Pacific. But even so, I notice on my local cable channel some very local advertisements (ads for restaurants and other services located in this very tiny city). So, it is possible to tailor ads for the local communities… so why don’t they?

Is it really preferable that half of their customers are told the wrong time to watch the programs? Or do they just suspect that us Central-ers are so smart we can figure out when to watch even if told the wrong time?

(I wonder if Mountain Time Zone people have the same complaints.)

But it’s not just the TV companies. National news broadcasters are just as guilty of assuming that people only care about the Eastern Time Zone.

For example, when reporting on disasters, the national news (at least in my experience) tends to primarily report on when these disasters occured in the Eastern Time Zone… even if the disasters did not occur in the Eastern Time Zone.

I mean, sure, it seems reasonable to tell me when the 9/11 disaster happened, using the Eastern Time Zone method of reckoning time, since the disaster happened in the Eastern Time Zone. But when you tell me about the shuttle disaster (which occured within the Central Time Zone) and when I am living in the Central Time Zone, I expect to be told when the disaster happened, using the Central Time Zone method of reckoning time… however, the first reports about the shuttle disaster that I heard first announced the time in the E.T.V. method of reckoning time, only then later mentioning, “By the way, that would be some other time in the Central Time Zone where the disaster occured.”

Oh, hush up and go mow the alfalfa.

First of all, WELCOME to the SDMB!!!

I think you pretty well answered your own question. EDT/EST is used primarily because it applies to more people. Take a look at a time zone map (try this one) and you’ll see that the Eastern time zone is (a) HUGE and (b) contains a large number of the major population centers in the US, including Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Baltimore, DC, Miami, Atlanta, etc. According to the US Census Bureau, the total population of the US in 2000 was a little over 281 million, of which roughly 136 million – nearly half – live in the Eastern time zone. (I based this on state population data, splitting states that lie partly in the Central zone, and adding nothing for Indiana, which has no friggin’ idea what time zone it’s in.)

Of course, if it bothers you that much, you could always reset your clocks to reflect EDT, and you’d never miss your faves on the tube…

This whole phenomena has interested me since I came to college. I live about five minutes west of the Illinois/Indiana border, and I go to college at Indiana University.

For the first part of the year, the two were on the same time schedule, I think, but now that I type that I’m not sure, because that would mean that something shown at 7pm there would be shown an hour LATER at 8pm here.

Now, however, since Illinois did their “fall back” thing, they’re an hour behind us, meaning something shown at 8pm here and 7pm there is shown at the same time.

It has the added benefit of allowing me to shave an hour off of my travel time when returning home, but the also the disadvantage of adding an hour when I come back.

The confusion is even worse in the Mountain time zone. With satellite and cable channels some(but not all) of the channels have both and eastern and western feed, with the western feed three hours after the Eastern feed (Pacific time). If the channel I’m watching is fed from the East, I have to tune in at 6:00 to see an 8:00 program, but if it’s fed from the West, then I have to tune in at 9:00. And I never know for sure which one it is.

I don’t live in the US, but it seems perfectly reasonable to me to use the capital city’s time zone as the default.

Just be thankful you don’t live in China, where the whole country’s clocks are set to Beijing time, despite solar time in western China being some four hours behind.

To follow up on TBone2, not only is half of today’s population still within the Eastern Time Zone, but that’s probably the lowest percentage in U.S. history.

EST has always been the default time in the country. The centers of government, finance, education, and media had traditionally been located in the east (movies being the only real exception, and they don’t need to worry about daily times). When television began, only the tiniest percentage of sets were located in other time zones.

For 200 years people have been conditioned into thinking that things happened when people in the east said they happened. It no longer needs to be that way today and some people advocate GMT or a special Internet time or Swatch time for that matter. It will still take many years to break the conditioning.

Also remember when TV was first established most of the shows came from NYC.

What I can’t see is why Prime Time is 8pm in Pacific Time. I understand it in EST. Then the feed goes to the next time zone which is CST, so there Prime Time is 7pm

So why is MST 7pm and then PST 8pm. I am biased as I HATE shows starting at 8pm

I use SiteMeter to track hits to my various web sites and I can’t help but notice that the majority of the hits (by quite a large margin) come from the Eastern Time Zone.

Very odd, but true.

In short, it’s because there are two satellite feeds: one for the east coast and another for the left coast. I suppose that it’s too complex or costly to have feeds for the central and mountain time zones too, so you guys just have to suffer.

As far as the local ads go, they are placed there by computers called “ad inserters”. These inserters are located at cable “head-ends” - small shacks crammed full of computers and other electronics that distribute cable TV and internet to a given geographic region. In some large cities - say Atlanta for instance - one cable company might have many head ends. In a smaller city, there might be only one or two for the whole town. The ads themselves are typically distributed via satellite or Jazz tape. And because a large city might have several head-ends, different commercials can be sent to different areas of town, even different versions of the same commercial (for exmaple, if someone owned pawn shops on the north side and south side of town, the commercials could be “customized” for each head-end).

I used to work for a company that made computers that fetched the ads via satellite and sent them to the ad inserter. I spent a lot of time by myself in these sheds out in the boonies. I’d get bored and randomly unplug the network cables from the channel computers, thus knocking out MTV to half a city. :wink:


Think you got it bad? Check this out. I live right on the border of MST and CST (in Mountain, but not by much). Hearing 10:00/9:00 Central should imply that I get it at 8:00, but somehow, some channels still show the time at 9:00. I don’t know if the cable company decided that because we’re so close to the Central line, they’re gonna broadcast stuff to us an hour late, or what.

The other night, The Iron Giant came on Cartoon Network. I believe the time was 9:00/8:00 Central. This would imply that it should come on here at 7:00. However, it came on at 9:00. I’ve heard of delays for shows being shown at 12:00/11:00 Central, and then 12:00 Pacific, because showing some softcore porn flick at 9:00 might still catch some younger viewers that it shouldn’t be. But why, if they’re doing this on Cartoon Network for Mountain Time, are they not on all other channels?

Then, I’m also lucky enough to get a couple “local” channels here from L.A. So they say they’re playing a show at 8:00, and it’s actually at 9:00 for me, 'cause I have to add an hour to PST to get my MST.
How’s that for some complaints? :wink:

My question is…why can’t they just get together and make some sort of inter-channel standard? :wink:

Ha! Try telling Americans what time they canwatch their TV shows and see what happens! :wink:

Because those of us in the main USA time zone have more important things to think about than what time it must be in every little rinky-dink time zone scattered halfway to China, quaint though the idea sounds. Gotta go…

I didn’t believe in it at first, but I’ve been there and it does exist. It’s just like the US but the streets are clean and the people are polite.

But, seriously, I hate the EST bias. What really drives me nuts is when an awards show says “Live” when it is delayed and the bad words have been bleeped out.

I rather suspect that “live” TV is much like “live” radio, in that it’s “almost live.” Most radio broadcasts, especially those that use phone-in callers, employ a tape rebroadcast system that inserts a short delay, usually five seconds or so. The purpose is to allow the engineer a short time to “bleep” out unacceptable language.

This is why call-in show hosts tell you to turn down your radio before you call in – if you don’t, you’ll be confused as hell, hearing the actual live talk on the phone in one ear and the delayed “live” talk on the radio in the other ear.

I am sure that minimal delay is used sometimes, if not all the time, but I remmeber reading that thetre was some language heard on the East Coast broadcast of the Grammys that was expurgated from the other time zones’ broadcasts. It still said “Live” however.