What Is a Slot?

A slot is a narrow opening, such as a keyway or a slit for receiving coins in a machine. It is also the name of a position or place in a schedule or scheme: The first episode was slotted in at 2 p.m., but it was pushed back because the movie took the whole evening’s slot. To slot something into a space is to put it there in the appropriate location, as in She slid her new laptop into its slot under her desk.

In computer science, a software element that acts as a dynamic placeholder for content that is determined by another part of the program: A slot can be passive, waiting to fill with data, or active, calling out for data to be added to it (similar to a page’s placeholder). When used in conjunction with a renderer, a slot is the source of a web page’s dynamic content.

Several types of slots exist:

The most common type of slot is a simple number sequence that determines a prize payout when the machine is activated. More advanced machines display patterns, such as a diamond or a heart, that must align to win a jackpot. Other slots may require a particular symbol to trigger a bonus game or free spins. The pay table is a useful tool for understanding how to play a specific slot.

A slot is an allocated time and place for an aircraft to take off or land, as authorized by an airport or air-traffic authority: Air traffic controllers assign a number of slots for each runway. Airlines bid for these slots to operate their planes, and they can be very valuable if an airline is constrained by runway capacity or by parking availability.

Similarly, an airport’s scheduled time for flights to land or take off can be filled by another airline’s request: The new airline requested 40 more slots at the major U.S. airports.

The slot also refers to the time period during which a television or radio program will be broadcast: It is important that this time period match with the peak audience for a given show. Otherwise, viewers will be likely to switch to a different channel or turn off the television altogether. The slot is the most effective advertising opportunity for a television or radio program, and a popular slogan associated with it is “Turn on your TV and tune into the slot.” In other words, tuning in to the right channel at the right time will ensure that your message gets heard. The right timing can even result in a spike in sales. This type of marketing is referred to as push or pull advertising. Turning on the TV and tuning into the slot at just the right moment will generate a large number of customers, while turning off the TV or avoiding the slot at that moment will yield few results. For this reason, advertising agencies often employ a variety of methods to optimize their client’s slots.