The CRETV archive consists of representative videotaped samples of television broadcasting which are analyzed for program and commercial content. These samples were taken every two years from 1983 through 1991 and have been taken yearly since then. During each year sampled, a composite week of television is selected during each of four months (March, June, September, and December). For each month's sample, the composite week consists of a randomly selected Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on, and on each of those days the content is taped from 7:00a.m. until 1:00a.m. the following morning. In each year sampled, the three major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) are monitored through their affiliates in Syracuse, New York, and the channel is changed every hour using a random block design. Beginning in 1992, an additional composite week was created for each of the four taping months in order to select samples from other networks, cable, and independent stations (Fox, PBS, Nickelodeon, UPN, WB, independent stations from Syracuse and New York City). Before 1992, each year's sample consisted of 504 hours, including about 800 programs and more than 15,000 commercials; since 1992, the size of each year's sample has doubled. The archive currently contains more than 8,000 hours of television, including more than 13,000 programs and over 400,000 commercials.
The size and breadth of the archive sample makes possible analyses of a wide range of content variables, along with comparisons by year, program type, network, and time of day or week. The CRETV researchers code each program as it is videotaped, documenting the date, day, time, and channel on which it is shown and coding it for program type and content, including the notation of numerous keywords that may apply (e.g., if it contained characters who were elderly, doctors, people of color, etc., or topics related to AIDS, drugs, violence, etc.). All non-program messages (product commercials, public service announcements, program promotions, etc.) are timed for length and coded for product type.