Love of the unknown: Revealing live television's appealNew research forthcoming in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research explores television viewers' strong preference for unscripted programming. The researchers found that – contrary to several other explanations of live television's appeal – impatience and desire for camaraderie are relatively inconsequential when compared to a sense of indeterminacy. Indeterminacy is especially critical in sporting events; play is suspended during commercial breaks so viewers may watch the action as it unfolds.
"Indeterminate consumption experiences (such as watching sports competitions live on television) unfold in ways that are not decided before the event occurs," explains Joachim Vosgerau (Carnegie Mellon University) and his coauthors. "This, in and of itself, makes them more exciting and preferable than equivalent determinate experiences (such as watching recorded broadcasts of the same competitions) that can only unfold the way the featured events were decided before they are broadcast."
Indeterminacy is the unplanned part of the show – it's the "Live" part of "Saturday Night Live." Even though the skits are partially scripted, unexpected things could happen. In reality shows, the contestants don't know who will win or what will be asked of them next. The authors explain that the difference between watching a live broadcast of a sporting event versus watching a tape-delayed version is paramount to the viewer's enjoyment. In the latter instance, an important component of the level of indeterminacy has been lost and thus the level of viewing pleasure is diminished significantly.
"This seemingly subtle characteristic can help explain how people interpret many of their consumption experiences," the authors conclude. "Indeterminacy knowledge can alter people's experienced utility in a variety of everyday consumption domains such as television, performing arts, vacations, and gaming in ways that researchers in marketing and psychology have yet to explore."
Joachim Vosgerau, Klaus Wertenbroch, and Ziv Carmon. "Indeterminacy and Live Television." Journal of Consumer Research. March 2006.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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