U.S. Television Royalties

Royalty policies are complicated. Choose between two versions of this page.


Types of Uses

BMI pays TV royalties based on a census of music usage from cue sheets sent to us from various sources. Here are the BMI broadcast and cable TV performance categories:

Feature Performance

Feature Performances are ones that are the focus of the audience’s attention. They’re noted on the cue sheet for the show as either:

  • Visual Vocal (VV) – when a vocalist is on camera singing the song, or
  • Visual Instrumental (VI) – when an instrumentalist is on camera performing the song

Background Performance

Background Performances are ones that are used to underscore a scene and set the mood but are not the focus of audience attention. These works are typically cues written for the TV show or film or are pre-recorded works from a music library. They’re usually noted on cue sheets as a background instrumental (or BI) or, if the cues accompanying the action contain audible lyrics, background vocal (or BV) performances.

Theme Performance

Theme Performances open or close a TV program. We only give theme credit if the work is used in multiple episodes of the show. Otherwise, works that are performed at the opening or closing of a show are credited as either a feature or background performance.

Logo Performance

Logo Performances are musical tags that regularly accompany the visual ID or logo of the show’s production company or distributor.

Paid Programming Performance

Paid Programming Performances are works performed in infomercials.  The music is paid at one-third the otherwise applicable rate for TV shows.

Promotional Announcements

Promotional Announcements are works that are used in an announcement that advertises an upcoming show on the same network or station. Right now, we only pay for promos that air on ABC, CBS, Fox, The CW and NBC. Your payment is determined based upon the time of day the promo airs and the rate varies each quarter depending on the number of promos broadcast during that quarter.

Commercial Jingles (Performances as of January 1, 2011)

A commercial jingle is a work (either pre-existing or specifically written for an advertiser) used to advertise on television products and/or services for sale.

BMI pays for all music compositions greater than five seconds for performances of commercial jingles on broadcast and cable networks, and local television in major markets. Payments are calculated based upon the time of day of the performances and the number of commercial jingles aired in a given quarter. 

Network Television

BMI currently licenses only ABC, CBS, NBC and Univision as television networks. This means that it’s the network itself that pays us for music airing during network shows.

Royalties are based upon the license fees we collect from each network. Rates will change each quarter depending upon the amount of the fees allocated, which are determined by using Nielsen data to measure the size of the viewing audience. The rates may be different each quarter based on the total BMI music performances for each quarter’s TV Network royalty payment.

We don’t license other TV “networks,” such as Fox, The CW and Ion, as networks because the license fees for music performances are paid by each local station rather than the “network” and are treated according to our Local Television rules.

Network performances may be eligible for up to three different payment types each quarter. They’re called the Current Activity Payment, the Super Usage Payment and the Theme Music Bonus.

The Current Activity Payment

Current Activity Payments are made for all network performances. We calculate a unique royalty rate for each performance, based on the license fees available for the quarter in combination with the duration of the performance, the weighted royalty value for each usage type and television audience measurement data provided by the Nielson folks for each program aired on that network. So, if your music aired during a network program on Monday, October 11, 2010 at 9:00 p.m., its unique rate is calculated using the data for the audience size for that show. The values for all performances types (theme, feature, background and logo) that were reported to us are weighted by BMI with each type having a unique valuation. Most of the royalty funds to be paid each quarter are used to make Current Activity Payments.

Super Usage Payment

Super Usages are Background Vocals, Visual Instrumentals and Visual Vocals that are uninterrupted for at least 1 minute. The Super Usage Payment is higher than those of a feature performance with duration of less than one minute.

Theme Music Bonus Payment

TV Themes with at least 2,000 network performances in a quarter may receive a Theme Music Bonus Payment. If a particular theme qualifies, all the other theme music associated with that show qualifies, too.

We put aside a portion of the available quarterly royalties from each network to make a Theme Music Bonus pool. Each eligible performance receives a pro-rata share of that bonus pool according to how many performances aired. So, more performances mean a higher Theme Music Bonus.

Local Television

This is a little complicated, as BMI has two different license types for the more than 1,100 local TV stations we license.  The first is a “blanket” license where the station pays a single fee that covers music in all that station’s syndicated and locally-originated programs. The other type is called a “per-program” license. Here, the station pays us only where there’s music in particular shows.

We put the blanket and per-program fees we receive in separate buckets. Royalties for music aired on stations with a blanket license are weighted in order to reflect the license fees paid by a station or group of stations. Royalties from per-program stations are determined in a similar manner but those fees are distributed only to the writers and publishers whose music is used on the programs for which the fees are paid.

Cable Television

We get a census of music use for basic and pay cable networks from cue sheets and other sources. Royalty rates are determined each quarter by applying the amount of license fees collected from each cable network against the performances on that network, using the Local Television rates and methodology as a starting point.