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B’cast outranks cable in viewership survey

An annual study by the Roper Organization reaffirms that network TV is still viewers’ primary choice for news and entertainment and that viewers prefer to make their own decisions — as opposed to pressure from media watchdogs or interest groups — about whether material is offensive.

The 34th year of “America’s Watching: Public Attitudes Toward TV,” released yesterday, was co-sponsored by the Network Television Assn. and the National Assn. of Broadcasters (the survey was conducted last November).

The report revealed that even with the proliferation of viewing options, three-quarters of “appointment viewers” (those who make a special effort to watch a favorite program) find those shows on the Big Three networks, and even a majority of cable subscribers (70%) say the networks offer the most programs they make a special effort to watch.

Making the webs’ must-carry argument, 64% of cable subscribers also said they would be likely to cancel subscriptions if their cable operator didn’t carry their local network affiliates, and 81% rejected the idea of cablers dropping broadcast networks to make room for more cable channels. Cable subscribers also indicated that they would expect their bill to be cut in half if the three nets were not on it.

Additionally, 44% of the people surveyed said television is their sole source of news, while 25% got their news from TV and other sources. That 69% is part of a gradual upward trend, from 64% in 1980 and 59% in 1968, of people who view television as their primary news source. Television’s credibility also continues to rise.

Nearly three-quarters of the TV viewers say they got their news from the major broadcast webs.

And while most viewers thought cable, not broadcast TV, had more profanity, sex and violence, 45% of viewers simply changed the channel when they saw something offensive, while 15% turned the TV off and 12% did nothing at all (19% saw nothing objectionable on TV).

In fact, 76% said individual viewers should decide what they see and hear on TV, compared to 23% who said TV networks or stations, 16% who said advertisers, 11% who said social action and religious groups and 10% who said the federal government.

That issue is of particular concern as the networks draw fire from some quarters. Network officials have generally maintained that viewers are able to establish those parameters without the need for government or self-appointed censors to be involved.

As to children’s shows, 82% of those polled said parents should decide what their children see.

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