Appointment Television in Latin America

Most television programs are series with episodes that are screened at regular intervals (that is, same time every week day or every week).  There are many factors that lead to this approach.  First of all, there are production factors which dictate that regular series are cheaper and easier to produce.  Secondly, certain drama series will have more time to develop characters and plots than otherwise possible.  Thirdly, the audience can schedule their viewing if they know when their favorite programs will always appear at specific times.  Finally, with all the preceding factors in place, the television station will have a steady advertising revenue stream based upon predictable audience sizes and compositions for their programs.

Not all television programs succeed.  Like any art form, television succeeds best when it connects emotionally with the audience.  This is manifested by the term for a successful television program --- "appointment television" --- which begins when a viewer becomes hooked with a character or characters or a story line, so that this becomes "must see television."  The 1997 series Roots  is commonly thought to be the program that coined the term "appointment television" in the USA, because -- in the era before the arrival of VCRs --- viewers and businesses literally planned their evenings around this miniseries.  When a television program achieves "appointment television" status, it becomes a valuable property, paving the way for numerous opportunities of product placement, merchandising, co-branding, brand extensions in addition to traditional advertising.

We will now cite some survey data from the TGI Latina study.  This is a survey of 48,885 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old conducted in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) during 2001.  Within this survey, the respondents were shown the statement "There are television programs that I arrange my schedule around."  Among the survey respondents, 32.6% said that they completely agreed with the statement.  By itself, this must be taken as a remarkable phenomenon whereby one-third of the population schedule their lives around television programs.

In the chart below, we show the incidences by age/sex groups.  For any given age group, females are usually more likely to have higher incidences.  For men, the highest incidence occurs among teenagers.  For women, the highest incidences occur among the youngest and oldest groups.

In the next chart, we show first the incidences by socio-economic level (Level A= top 10%, Level B=next 20%, Level C=next 30%, Level D=bottom 40%).  The incidences decrease with socio-economic level. This is consistent with the observation that overall television viewing levels decrease with increasing socio-economic level.  Whereas television is the principal form of entertainment for the lower class, it is less important for the upper class. 

More interesting in that chart are the incidences by country.  These levels are consistent with the overall television viewing levels in these countries, with Mexico being the lowest.  As a country, Mexico is the largest exporter of Spanish-language television programs to the rest of Latin America, so that much of the "appointment television" programs in countries such as Panama and Peru are fact coming from Mexico.  Therefore, the relatively low incidence in Mexico is not due to the quality of those programs, but there are in fact socio-cultural differences among these countries.

Within the TGI Latina study, we attempted to identify those television programs which attract viewing by appointment.  This proved to be impossible because the information in the TGI Latina was too crude for this purpose.  The TGI Latina study only informs us that those people who watch television programs on schedule are somewhat more likely to watch telenovelas, talk shows and religious programs, for example.  Loyalty to individual programs would have to be investigated through the television rating databases.

(posted by Roland Soong, 6/02/2002)

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