Television Viewing Preferences: Programs, Schedules, and the Structure of Viewing Choices Made by Israeli Adults

By Cohen, Jonathan | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Television Viewing Preferences: Programs, Schedules, and the Structure of Viewing Choices Made by Israeli Adults


Cohen, Jonathan, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Which viewers watch which television programs? This question is central to the study of television for both practical and theoretical reasons (Rao, 1975; Webster & Washklag, 1983). Broadcasters selling audience segments to advertisers need to understand the dynamics of audience choices, as does anyone trying to design a targeted media campaign. Academics who wish to understand motivations for and effects of television viewing have also looked for ways to examine the relationship between viewers and programs. To understand this relationship, it is necessary to go beyond gross measures of ratings and analyze cumulative behavior of viewers (Webster & Lichty, 1991).

Studies exploring viewing preferences and choices have focused on either audience's motivations and tastes or on structural features of programming. Overall, structural approaches have been more fruitful, demonstrating that the size of the potential audience and audience availability are key factors of program choice (Webster & Lichty, 1991). This also suggests that factors influencing audience availability at the time of broadcast are important to the choice to view that program. These factors include when a program is broadcast, who is watching at that time, and which type of channel the program is on (e.g., broadcast, basic cable, or pay cable). In the attempt to predict the extent to which viewers of program X will also view program Y, research has found that the best predictions are not based on an analysis of program content.

With few exceptions (e.g. consecutive programs, daytime programming, repeat viewing of series), the overlapping viewing of any random pair of shows has been shown to be predicted by their respective ratings (Barwise & Ehrenberg, 1988), suggesting that perhaps viewing patterns are little more than random choices. However, investigations of overall television viewing patterns have found that viewers tend to be loyal to specific channels and programs (e.g., Webster & Washklag, 1983; Zubayr, 1999), and have come up with mixed results on the importance of content to viewers' choices. Overall, many studies have concluded that viewers of one program are no more likely to watch another program of the same type or genre (Goodhardt, Ehrenberg, & Collins, 1987; Webster & Lichty, 1991), while other studies have found genre loyalty (Brosius, Wober, & Weimann 1992; Rao, 1975; Rust, Kamakura, & Alpert, 1992).

This study aims to replicate and extend earlier studies of program choice in order to examine whether findings regarding channel and genre loyalty hold true in a more complex and qualitatively different television market. It also extends these findings by examining television viewing data from Israel to explore the role of program language as a factor in viewing choices. Based on past research, data are examined to identify groups of shows that tend to be viewed by the same viewers. These groups are then examined for common features that could explain why viewers select them together.

Genres

Genres are production formulas that allow the routinized production of television series and provide heuristics for estimating the potential success of proposed programs based on the success of previous programs in the same genres. Both Gitlin (1983) and Bielby and Bielby (1994) found that the concept of genre is a staple of television industry nomenclature, since the industry relies heavily on imitation. These researchers assume, as do industry leaders, that genres are an important factor in viewing choices. Linking such categories to audience research, Webster and Lichty (1991) argue that "common sense industry categories come as close to a viewer-defined typology as anything" (p.160). However, the evidence from audience research is not quite so clear.

Some studies support the notion of genre loyalty. A study by Brosius, Wober, and Weimann (1992), based on viewing diaries of British viewers, found viewing patterns that were fairly consistent over time but varied across channels, program types, and even individual programs. …

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