Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Reconceptualizing Channel Repertoire in the Urban Cable Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Reconceptualizing Channel Repertoire in the Urban Cable Environment

Article excerpt

The introduction of a new electronic medium may encourage a restructuring in the way consumers view established media (Henke & Donohue, 1989; Krugman, 1985; Lin, 1994), with many researchers proposing a substitution dynamic similar to the "functional equivalence" perspective offered by uses and gratifications theory. Jeffres (1978) developed the notion of interest maximization, a perspective that predicts a complementary relationship for media modalities whereby interests are maximized through the addition of sources, rather than by substitution.

The present study conceptualizes viewer patronage of cable from the perspective of channel repertoires. Specifically, we propose to extend the concept of channel repertoire to accommodate the changing media landscape, particularly in the diverse urban environment. With broadcasters poised to offer up to five digital channels per station by 2006, and continuing proliferation of Web, cable and DBS offerings, it's useful to examine how audiences make sense of this new diversity.

Past work suggests that researchers can ascertain the nature of functional relationships between media without the advantage of knowing the precise uses and gratifications sought or fulfilled (Swanson, 1987). Clearly, a media pattern--using a particular medium or channel repertoire is sustainable only if the rewards are deemed "sufficient." In trying to determine this "sufficiency" level for maintaining a certain repertoire, we first draw upon the functional equivalence and compatibility perspectives.

Whereas academic studies provide a clear understanding of viewing preferences within individual communities at a given point in time, our understanding of channel performance in recent years remains incomplete. Most of the research on cable adoption and uses was conducted during the early-mid 1980s, when 40% or fewer of U.S. television households subscribed to cable, and the average system had fewer than 36 channels (National Cable Television Association, 1998). Perhaps owing in part to geographical and media content artifacts of different communities under study (which have often been relatively homogenous, non-urban settings), the literature paints an inconsistent picture of demographic influences on viewing (e.g., Collins, Reagan, & Abel, 1983; LaRose & Atkin, 1988a). For that reason, we offer the following research question:

RQ1: How do social locators influence channel viewership patterns for various information and entertainment-oriented channels?

Channel Repertoires

Clearly, changes in competing cable services, video technologies, and channel carriage policies underscore the need to re-examine channel repertoires (Reagan, 1995). Ferguson and Melkote (1997) define channel repertoire (CR) as "the number of channels that a viewer chooses to watch, without much regard to the total number of channels available" (p. 190). They uncover a relatively modest influence of demographic variables in determining the number of cable channels included in one's repertoire, as people who spend the most time with television are more likely to include cable channels in their viewing repertoire. Heeter (1985) integrates this wider media environment into her ad hoc choice process model. Noting that much of the work in this area is purely descriptive, Webster and Lichty (2000) offer a predictive model of audience behavior that incorporates audience and media factors as determinants of viewing. They found media factors are most strongly influenced by programming options.

Researchers have developed models that link the richer new media repertoires (e.g., cable) with a more active audience (Lin, 1994; Perse, Ferguson, & McLeod, 1994). They found some support for their contention that cable channel repertoire (CCR) will be higher among groups who spend more time watching television.

Ferguson and Melkote found that CCR differed between low television/low other leisure activities and high television/high other leisure activities groups. …

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