Unearthing the notion quotient: A look at the prevalent myths of TV land

The unwritten media book puts down a universal rule of thumb - guys dig news, sports, reality shows and action movies. Women prefer comedies, romance and dramas.

Another commonly accepted belief in media is that women watch more TV than men and are that much more easily accessible than men - to the advertiser, that is. Yet one more widely held conviction to sway programming decisions is that afternoon viewers are largely women.

Are these just unsubstantiated perceptions or is there truth in these notions? According to TAM data covering males and females above 15 years of age in cable homes across the country for the period 13 July through 9 August, 2003; women do surpass men in overall television viewing. But a more specific analysis reveals a different story.

This chart shows the overall TV viewing patterns of women vis a vis those of men

Women do surpass men in overall television viewing. However, it is the male viewers who turn up in greater numbers for channels other than mass entertainment channels. So far as news and English entertainment viewing is concerned, men rule the roost while Hindi movies draw men and women in more or less consistent numbers, irrespective of the time band.

An analysis of overall television viewing reveals that while women contribute towards a TVR of 32 during peak hours - at around 9:45 pm, men accounted for lower viewership contributing towards a TVR of 27. At the next highest peak, which is around 1:30 pm in the afternoon, the TVR ratio of women to men stood at 20:14.

When it comes to across the board viewing, what pushes women up in the number game is mass entertainment viewing even though the number of women covered are fewer than men. While at the peak hour of 9:45 pm, women account for a TVR of over 20, men account for a TVR of over 16. The afternoon statistics provided by TAM however corroborate the widely held perceptions. At the afternoon peak of 1:30 pm, whereas women account for a TVR of 12, men represent a TVR of around seven.

By and large, mass entertainment channels draw more women than men in both the time zones. While at the peak hour of 9:45 pm, women account for a TVR of over 20, men account for a TVR of over 16. In the afternoon peak of 1:30 pm, however, the gulf is wider. Whereas women account for a TVR of 12, men represent a TVR of around 7. In other words, the afternoon time zone draws roughly 44 per cent of male viewership vis-a-vis prime time viewership whereas, among women, it draws as many as 60 per cent of the eyeballs raked in by prime time viewing by women.

This chart shows viewing patterns for mass entertainment channels by women vis a vis men

Women rule the mass entertainment channels, that‘s true again. All the same, while in Hindi movie viewing they are more or less at par with men, in news and English entertainment viewing, they lag behind (AXN, Discovery - are you listening?). In fact, at any time during the day, it is men who account for the higher TVRs than women.

For instance, peak hour figures for English entertainment viewing reveal that men notched up a TVR of 0.5 as opposed to women‘s TVR of 0.3 in the week ended 9 August. During non-peak hours as well, men prevail in terms of strength.

As far as English entertainment viewing is concerned, for both genders, viewing showed a steady rise over the day, plunging only around 9 pm but picking up momentum then onwards to peak in the 11pm -12 midnight band. For men, viewing peaks around 12 midnight while for women the crest comes two hours earlier. Even though trends for both men and women follow the same pattern here, English entertainment channels attract more men than women at any given point in the day including day slots.

This chart shows English entertainment viewing patterns of women vis a vis men

News channels too are yet to catch up with the female viewer in India, even though it is the housewife who is an easy target for the 24 hour news and current affairs channels that are swarming the airwaves. The numbers are lopsided in favour of men. In the busiest time band, 9-10 pm, while men account for a TVR of 0.7, women tote up a TVR of close to 0.5. Even during the 10:30 am-6 pm time zone - which is considered as women‘s time band - men account for a TVR of around 0.3 while women are behind, with roughly 0.25 TVR.

This chart shows news channel viewing patterns of women vis a vis those of men

The numbers of Hindi movie viewing, on the other hand, do not render such a marked bias. In fact, contrary to popular perception that it is primarily women who constitute the afternoon viewership, in the afternoon slot it is even stevens between men and women, with both registering a TVR close to 0.8 around 1:30 pm. In the prime time band as well, men and women stand in close range of each other, irrespective of the time bands- with men registering a TVR of 1.1 as opposed to women who accounted for a TVR of 0.9.

An assessment of the aforesaid TAM data revealed that Hindi movies draw maximum female viewers around 10:30 pm even as for men, viewing crests around 12 midnight. In fact, afternoon viewing - when it peaks around 1:30 pm - pulls over 63 per cent of prime time viewing around the 9:30 pm slot.

This chart shows viewing patterns of Hindi movie channels by women and men

Again, notions are not restricted only to viewership figures. It is widely held among the media community that men and women differ fundamentally in their approach to the act of viewing television as such. In fact, the opinion that advertising strategy for attracting men has to be different than that for women derives power from this very notion.

Men, it is said, tend to view home as a site of leisure as distinct from their workplace. Not surprisingly, as Amit Ray of Mudra told some time back, "men watch TV whole-heartedly, but selectively. For women, on the other hand, home is primarily a place of work - even to those with jobs. That is why they seem to watch TV distractedly as they have chores to attend to."

While women, he says, usually combine television viewing with chores and are not averse to bits of conversation, men tend to watch TV more attentively, in relative silence and without interruption. This is one area that TAM data cannot explore and may need more qualitative research.

Also, men are seen to plan their evening‘s viewing by checking schedules in papers or on TV itself and they are unlikely to remember the day or timing of programmes. Women, in contrast, go for unplanned viewing as a norm though they may be aware of the timings and days of their favourite shows.

Also, increasingly changing priorities and lifestyles over the years have led to changing viewing habits. More and more distractions have weaned some of the explosive additions to India‘s population off television only to hook them on to computer games, Internet, et al.

Research conducted by children‘s network Nickelodeon and by TN Media in the US recently shows that more children aged between two and 11 are turning off the tube, often in favour of Internet use or video games. The drop in the number of children watching television has the $ 800 million children‘s advertising industry worried, especially since young children are often accompanied by their mothers during their rationed television viewing times. And no, this phenomenon affects not only the affluent class, but also the not so well heeled.

So, what exactly constitutes prime time?

Prime time, these days, is now more of a ‘frame of mind‘ when and where consumers are ‘open‘ to receive brand information.

Till about a decade ago, the time slot between 8-10 pm was generally considered as prime time and life was relatively simple. Not so these days. With channels dishing out programming 24/7, programmers and advertisers are now splitting hair over time bands and programming slots even as impelled by changing lifestyles, the television now competes with the web, videos, and busy schedules.

Nevertheless, the audience is getting more and more receptive to unusual hours of TV viewing. In fact, prime time could be more than just a time of day. If current trends are any indication, there could be different prime times for different channels that are catering to different clusters of consumers.

Discovery, for instance, has Woman‘s Hour on weekdays from noon to 1 pm, family time on weekdays from 7 -10 pm and also late night Discovery from 10 pm to midnight. In an interview given to late last year, Discovery Communications India‘s managing director, Deepak Shourie said, "The branded time zones and creation of new prime time have helped us. For us day parts are also prime time?"

According to TAM data covering males and females above 15 years of age in cable homes across the country for the period 13 July through 9 August, 2003; for both men and women, prime time viewing peaks at 9:45 pm in the evening band as also in the next most popular time band is the afternoon slot which peaks at 1:00 pm. Between the afternoon and prime time bands, viewing troughs for both genders around 6:00 pm.

But further analysis reveals that whereas for women, the prime to non-prime viewing ratio (at their respective crests of 9:45 pm to 1:30) stands at TVRs of 32 to 20, for men, the TVR ratio stands at 27 to 14. Which effectively means that during the afternoon slot, advertisers are getting up to 52 per cent of prime time male viewers and 62.50 per cent of prime time women viewers.

In fact, now news, information, cartoons, sitcoms and soap operas - it is said - are watched more often outside of prime time. Movies and event coverage, by contrast, are said to have a larger audience in the evenings.

For niche channels like Fashion TV, prime time is generally 10 pm and onwards.

In the upshot of this perpetually recalibrating definition of prime time, one thing is getting increasingly clear - prime time is more of a ‘frame of mind‘ when and where consumers are ‘open‘ to watching a certain programme and receiving brand information.

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