Those Flippin' Grazers

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Channel surfing is a recurring theme in the nightmares of television and advertising executives. But until recently, not much was known about an activity advertisers consider insidious. The seventh installment of How People Use Television, a yearly report from Statistical Research, Inc., the Westfield, New Jersey-based media research company, attempts to shed some light on the subject.

The good news is that claims of channel switching are more braggadocio than fact. The report found that across dayparts, the proportion of viewers who said they typically change channels was three to four times greater than actual documented switching. In fact, the mean number of switches for a 30-minute program was less than one, ranging from 0.3 in the morning to 0.8 during other dayparts. Real switchers only accounted for one-quarter of respondents.

True to stereotype, men are the main surfing culprits. They out-switch women two to one, and during daytime, 29 percent reported switching during the previous 30 minutes, whereas only 20 percent of women reported doing so. Guy TV inspired more switching-the largest proportion, 34 percent -occurred during sports programs. Dramas, mysteries, and soaps kept viewers most tuned in, with only 12 percent switching during these programs.

The nimble fingers of the younger set are also more likely to flip the channels: reports of switching were inversely related to age.

Choice invites change, as well: viewers with cable channels to choose from switched more than those who only had broadcast options. But during the morning when all switching was lower, cable subscribers surfed no more than the rest.

And, big surprise, whether a viewer was using a remote control or not played a large role in switching activity: those with a remote were twice as likely to change as their Stone Age counterparts. The most popular method for remote users was to start low on the dial, and use the channel up button (48 percent); only 5 percent started high and moved down the dial; 28 percent selectively clicked to find their favorite channels or programs.

Two bright spots for advertisers: two-thirds of viewers surf because of the program, not the commercial, and about one-fifth of those who did switch during the break remembered something about the advertising.

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