Sources of Information about Television Programs

Latin American consumers have many television program choices today. For many people who have multichannel television (such as cable, satellite and MMDS), they can choose among over 70 different channels at any time (see Latin American Cable Systems Channel Lineups). Given this plethora of choice, how do people decide what to watch? This question has important implications for television channels which have to find ways to attract audiences.

One model of television choice is a two-step process. First, the person decides that he/she wants to watch television and turns on the television set. Then, and only then, the person decides on which program to watch by sampling the channels and watching whatever pleases him/her. This process might be called the 'zapping' method.

In the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1996 study, we found that 25% of all persons 12-64 in Latin America said that they used 'zapping' to find out about television programs. This number is highest in Argentina (55%), and is also higher among persons with multichannel television households (39%). When there are over 70 channels available, it requires a lot of effort to actively seek out the information otherwise.

Depending on the TV system, 'zapping' can lead to some systematic biases in viewing choices. Some TV sets restart at the last channel watched during the previous viewing occasion. Other TV systems always begin with a fixed channel number, such as channel one (e.g. TeleUno on Multivisión). This means that a lower channel number can become a trapping state, therefore disfavoring higher channel number. For this reason, channel position on a cable system is very important for a television network.

To attract more viewers, a network must break through the clutter of television programs and communicate the contents of its offerings to the consumers. There are specialized means to do that. In the USA, there is the venerable TV Guide, which is a mass circulation weekly magazine that contains listings of television programs. Besides the standard brief listings, the publication accepts advertising (called tune-in ads) from the television networks. These ads appear right next to the listings for that time slot, and should attract the attention of anyone who is reading that section.

TV guides are actually fairly difficult to compile and publish, as it is necessary to print local editions (city by city) that contain local programming information in addition to all the national broadcast and cable television programs. In Latin America, such television guides are available in some countries (Teve Guía in Puerto Rico).  But overall in Latin America, only 3% used a television guide, with the highest number being 7% in Puerto Rico.

Another source of television program information is the listings in daily newspapers. About 23% of Latin Americans report using this information source. This is usually a reader service provided by the newspaper. Most newspapers will print the programs being shown on the broadcast television channels for that day. When there are too many multichannel choices, the newspaper may only print a selection (through some unknown process). To communicate greater information, a television channel or cable system will have to buy ad space in the newspapers. In Mexico City, the two multichannel systems, Cablevisión and Multivisión, are two of the largest newspaper advertisers, with 2/3 page space daily on practically every newspaper.

TV listings are also sometimes provided by newspapers in the form of a magazine supplement that is inserted in the thick Sunday edition. Overall, 9% of Latin Americans refer to this as a source of information; the highest numbers are in Brazil (14%) and Puerto Rico (14%).

For newspapers, the most difficult information to obtain is from the cable television networks. Completeness is important, and it is not easy to keep up-to-date with the scores of channels. Furthermore, when many channels exist, the information may take up too much space to print. For these reasons, few newspapers would carry complete cable television listings on their own.

As a service to their subscribers, some cable television system operators will provide a program guide. A small system with few subscribers may not be able to afford to print its own guide. But most of the large multiple system operators will do so. The cable guides also accept advertising, from cable channels as well as local businesses. Among Latin American persons with cable television, 25% use these cable guides for program information, being highest in Argentina and Chile. Typically, these guides are published on a monthly basis. The guides are not necessarily detailed and informative, and typically contains only the program titles. So unless one knows the programs already, one may not be able to tell what it is. For certain special events, the details may not be known at the time of publication. For example, we may have a listing for 'additional playoff game if necessary, between two teams which are unknown at this time.'

Some cable systems also use a specialized TV channel. 11% of the people in cable homes reported using these channels. Typically, the channel contains a continuously scrolled listing of programs across all the channels on the system for the next few hours. Purposive searching is not available, and the information is usually very brief.

This concludes our brief review on how Latin American consumers obtain information about television programs. There is clearly plenty of room for improvement.

(by Roland Soong, 3/9/98)

(Return to Zona Latina's Home Page)