Selective Exposure to Educational Television
Jacob Wakshlag Indiana University
For many years, educational television has incorporated entertainment to attract young viewers. Capturing and holding an audience in the face of an increasingly attractive and diverse set of entertaining alternatives has been and remains a major concern of producers and distributors of educational material (cf. Lesser, 1974; Mielke, 1983). After all, what good comes from the finest in educational programming if it is not viewed by those who stand to gain from it?
The concern with attracting an audience to education would appear to be a relatively recent phenomenon. Education has traditionally been something done in captive surroundings (classrooms) where exposure has been taken for granted. But the television audience, unlike that in the classroom, is not captive. Any member of the audience is free to choose as he or she wishes from among the diverse set of material available at any given time. And today, one is not restricted to the offerings of a few local broadcasters. One may have basic and pay television channels available via cable, as well as one's own library of video cassettes and discs.
Unlike persons in the classroom, who may be motivated by long-range goals or a teacher's supervision, the in-home television viewer can choose to gratify more mundane and immediate desires. The noncaptive television viewer is free, and apparently uses this freedom, to maximize gratification from exposure. For some viewers, the informational content, in and of itself, may be of sufficient interest to attract exposure. However, for the vast majority of viewers, and for children in particular, the information itself does not seem to be sufficiently gratifying to attract and hold attention. Apparently, most viewers prefer the gratifications offered by entertainment programs most of the time. Viewers may (and apparently do, if the ratings are any indication) ignore the offerings of