ICT Professor at Paris 8 Vincennes/Saint-Denis University in Culture & Communication UFR, he is a former researcher in sociology and media within the Orange Labs.
It’s important to understand that tastes in TV consumption don’t necessarily rely on a positive preferential choice. People might watch content (especially TV programs but this can also be true of some non-linear content) that they not only find non “legitimate” (“Yeah, I know game shows aren’t very smart”) but that they sometimes don’t appreciate at all (“Sometimes, it’s so uninteresting that watching it by episodes makes it bearable”).
Therefore, audience numbers are neither the measure of an audience’s demand, nor necessarily an indicator of their taste, but rather an evaluation of their reaction to a certain offer. In fact, people often find themselves in a logic of “the least painful choice possible” when it comes to selecting a program, “because in the end, you have to watch something”.
However these “default” choices aren’t always negative. For example, they offer the possibility of having a “background noise” that allows multi-tasking and the performance of other activities (working, eating, talking, etc) and especially some communication habits very common among young people: talking on the phone, chatting on IM, reading text messages etc: “In general, we look at series that we’ve all seen before, those that run at 8pm (laugh), this way we can watch without really watching since we’ve already seen them all”.
Furthermore, the variety of consumption possibilities allows people to stay “up to date” when it comes to the minimum current content that you have to know (ex: to talk about it with friends) or to stand out by being able to talk about or recommend more original content.
The model of a demanding and selective audience who only watches “upscale” shows as opposed to a “mass audience” fascinated by their TV and watching anything without distinction is therefore an illusion. Those who watch very little television aren’t necessarily more selective or edgy in their program choices, and conversely, big TV consumers can also be counted among the audience of more specialized or “confidential” shows.
To learn more:
Macé (Éric). « Le conformisme provisoire de la programmation », Hermès, n° 37, 2003, pp. 127-135, ( pdf )