Daniel R. Anderson University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Academic research on television has involved a diverse assortment of disciplines, methods, and goals. The disciplines range from engineering to the humanities, the methods from signal analysis to critical analysis, and the goals from improved picture quality to political reform. Unquestionably, however, the mainstream disciplines of television research have been the social sciences, the major methods have been sociological or social psychological, and the goals have concerned television's social impact.
Despite the large role television plays in the economy and in how people spend their time, there has been relatively little academic research on its actual use. The research that has been done has been sociological in nature with the survey as the methodology of choice. Generally speaking, self reported characteristics of TV viewers (e.g., demographics, attitudes, product knowledge) are compared to self reported TV program choice. Assumptions are made that all content from programs reported watched is more or less uniformly absorbed, or assumptions about selected content are made on the basis of viewer or program characteristics. Neglected are the details of television viewing behavior itself. These details are of practical as well as theoretical importance.
Consider the problems faced by the producer of a television commercial, who must persuasively convey a certain amount of information about a product in an extremely limited time span. The costs of production and distribution of commercials, furthermore, make every single second of time a precious commodity. As such, the producer must make decisions about the