Too Many Choices on Cable Television?

In the 1990's, the talk of the world was about the coming of interactive television.  One of the hyperboles in those discussions was that these new systems would be able to offer 500 channels of television, and the only problem would be to find the content to fill up the bandwidth.  Today, we are apt to be more realistic because of the economic realities.  Still, a typical cable television system in Argentina or Chile offers something like 75 television channels, including the broadcast channels.  But even at this reduced number, there is a surfeit of choices.  The question that we wish to pose is just how people cope with this situation.

We will now cite some survey data from the TGI Chile study.  This is a survey of about 2,000 persons between the ages of 12 and 64 years old conducted in Gran Santiago during 2001.  Of these people, 839 have cable television service.  When presented with the statement "Cable television has too many channels --- I never know which one to choose", 34% of the cable television respondents either 'completely agreed' or 'somewhat agreed'.  So about one-third of all persons find it hard to choose from the large number of channels.

In the next chart, we show the agreement rates by age/sex groups.  Agewise, the rates are higher among older people.  The difficulty in confronting a large number of choices is a function of historical conditioning.  For the older people who grew up without any television, the increasing number of choices is difficult to face up to.  For the younger people who grew up with cable television, the large number of choices is seen to be the natural order of things. 

What is the effect of this type of attitude towards the plethora of choices in cable television?  On one hand, we might think that the situation would turn people off.  On the other hand, it is entirely possible that people actually enjoy the situation.  According to the TGI Chile study, the typical cable television person watched 15.7 different cable channels during a typical week.  By comparison, those people who agreed with the statement that they do not know which channels to choose from watched 14.1 different cable channels during a typical week.  So it would appear that people who do not know how to choose end up watching fewer cable television channels by sticking with the channels that they are familiar with.

If cable television presents a large number of choices, then the World Wide Web presents an even more astonishing array of choices.  Instead of just 100 television channels, there are millions of websites out there.  Within the TGI Chile cable television respondents, about one-third are Internet users.  Within these Internet users, 26% of them agreed with the statement about too many choices in cable television.  This is a relatively lower number, but it still represents a quarter of the people.

(posted by Roland Soong, 12/23/2001)

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