TV is getting worse, say majority of Canadians

Older respondents particularly dissatisfied - experts blame reality shows

Watching a gaggle of beautiful things wrestle over a single handsome bloke ain’t for everyone, and while younger viewers still flock to reality shows, a majority of Canadians seem to have had enough.

In fact, according to the latest Strategy/Decima poll, a significant 51.5% believe program quality is declining on the major Canadian and American networks, while just 10.5% think it is improving. At the same time, a slight majority of poll respondents – again the figure is 51.5% – reported they are watching less television than they did a couple of years ago.

David Campbell, president and CEO of Toronto’s Media Buying Services, blames it all on reality TV. He says the fact Canadians believe the quality of major network programming is in decline is consistent with the ‘general perception people have that TV is being dumbed down by reality programming.’

But he observes that while reality shows are largely an intelligence wasteland, the programming that appears on the specialty networks tends to be smarter than average television fare.

Responding to the poll’s finding that Canadians report they are watching less TV, Campbell adds: ‘The reality of it all is the absolute amount of television people are watching is staying about the same.’

This is because consumers are less likely to admit to their couch potato habits, yet if you look at viewership, audiences have remained stable, says CTV spokesperson Mike Cosentino. He points out that regular audience measurements show Canadians have consistently watched about 22 hours of television a week for the past several years.

‘Total English Canadian conventional viewing, at 34%, is slightly higher than a year ago, and slightly below the fall,’ he points out. ‘CTV’s total corporate share of 18% is at its highest point in the past five years.’

However, Campbell says that if the Strategy/Decima poll has picked up on the beginning of a trend that will see Canadians consume less TV, the industry should be concerned. ‘But an even bigger worry is the way people are watching [television]. They change channels more and they record programs and skip the commercials. This is going to get even worse with TiVo becoming more popular.’

A province-by-province breakdown of the numbers shows that Albertans, at 58.5%, are the most likely to believe program quality is deteriorating. Quebecers, at 40.9%, are the least likely to say the same.

Kathleen Khoorshed, broadcast manager with Toronto’s OMD, says she is not surprised Albertans are displeased with their program choices, given the prevalence of reality shows on the tube.

‘My sense is that Albertans tend to be a bit more conservative. They value family programs and dramas, and I think reality TV might be a bit too controversial for them.’

As for Quebec, Khoorshed notes that French-language television airs fewer reality shows, so viewers are less likely to be exposed to the congenitally racy and mayhem-filled genre.

‘That could partly explain why viewers in Quebec are less dissatisfied than Canadians on average,’ she adds.

Breaking the numbers down based on age, 18- to 24-year-olds are the least likely, at 44%, to say programming is getting worse, compared to 58.5% of the 55-plus age group.

Khoorshed says these deviations from the national average can also easily be explained by the rise in prominence of reality television: ‘Every year, there’s more on the schedule.’

Since younger audiences are the primary target of reality shows, it makes sense they would express the least dissatisfaction with the overall programming that is available, she says.

‘Young viewers are gravitating to it because it’s fresh, you don’t see repeats and they can talk about it the next day with their friends.’

Mike Macchiusi, a senior consultant at Toronto-based Decima Research, says an interesting finding of the survey is that among respondents who reported watching less TV, 64% believe the programming quality is getting worse, while among those who reported watching more TV, only 27% say it is getting worse.

‘It looks like there’s a correlation between amount of TV watched and perception of quality.’ However, further research would be required to explore the issue in greater depth, he says.

Gender did not arise as a factor affecting the results of either poll question. In the responses to the query about perceived program quality, 51.1% of males said it was getting worse, compared to 51.9% of females who said the same. Similarly, 52.2% of males reported they watch less television, while the figure for females is 50.9%.

Decima conducted this poll on behalf of Strategy via its monthly telephone omnibus, for which data was collected from 2,000 consumers between May 13 and May 19, 2004. Each month a random sample is generated and quotas for each region are disproportionately allocated. The data is weighted in tabulation to replicate actual population distribution by age and sex within regions, according to census data.

See the enclosed Fall TV Preview for a complete description and analysis of the coming 2004/05 TV season.