Cable and Program Choice
Carrie Heeter Bradley Greenberg Michigan State University
The most pervasive assumption of research on program choice has been that when viewers select a program to watch, they evaluate all program options available at the time and select the one that best fits some criterion. In a television environment where only three networks are available, this assumption rarely has been questioned. However, in cable television environments, as the number of program options increases vastly, the assumption becomes less plausible. One implication of the cable environment for selective-exposure research is to suggest that the actual choice process needs better articulation.
Many different approaches, both theoretical and atheoretical, have been advanced to predict program choice. Most of them move directly from predictor factors to choice outcome on the basis of a program-choice maximizing assumption. Articulation of a choice process could help identify conditions under which a predicted outcome would be most likely to occur. For example, a number of studies have found a relationship between aggressive predisposition and the amount of television violence viewed (e.g., Atkin, Greenberg, Korzenny & McDermott, 1979; Lefkowitz, Eron, Walder, & Huesmann, 1972; Stein & Friedrich, 1972). Subjects whose process of choice does involve evaluation of all alternatives and selection of the best program will be aware of all violent and nonviolent program options. Those who check only a few options may not be aware that nonviolent (or violent) program options exist, and therefore, they might not select the program they most prefer. Thus, subjects who evaluate all program alternatives should demonstrate the strongest relationship between aggressive predisposition and exposure to violent shows. Similarly, Zillmann and colleagues are finding evidence of a relationship between affective state and program choice (e.g., Zillmann, 1982; Zillmann, Hezel, & Medoff, 1980).