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Programme Information Research: An investigation of current attitudes and behaviours towards programme information

06 Medi 2006


Ofcom is the independent regulator for the UK communications industries, with responsibilities across television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.

Under Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003, Ofcom is required to bring about, or to encourage others to bring about, a better public understanding of the nature and characteristics of material published by the electronic media and its various delivery systems. This forms part of our work in the field of media literacy as outlined in the Ofcom Annual Plan for 2005/2006. Ofcom defines media literacy as the ability to access, understand and create communications in a variety of contexts.

In addition to these media literacy obligations, under Section 3 (2 e) of the Communications Act 2003 Ofcom has a duty to apply adequate protection to members of the public from the inclusion of offensive and harmful material in such services.

In 2004 Ofcom published the consultation document ‘Ofcom’s Strategy and Priorities for the Promotion of Media Literacy’. The consultation made a call to the UK audio-visual industries to consider establishing a common content labelling (information) scheme for material delivered across all platforms so as to give consumers an idea of the nature of content provided.

Following the consultation, Ofcom established an Audio Visual Content Information Working Group (AVCIWG). This group of stakeholders and other interested parties was brought together to inform our work in this area. The AVCIWG includes representatives from the broadcasting sector (including the British Board of Film Classification); the internet and mobile phone industries; the games industry and consumer organisations.

The aim of this research is to provide evidence of consumer needs and preferences and to inform Ofcom’s thinking in this area so as to give guidance to stakeholders.

Executive summary

Ofcom commissioned this research in order to understand the extent to which viewers utilise the current provision of content information at the point of consumption, and whether these methods of informing viewers will remain viable in the future in their ability to protect people from potentially harmful or offensive material. The research was quantitative in nature with a multi-phased methodology that was designed to mirror the consideration process that takes place when viewers think about these issues.

This executive summary is based on the key research objectives.

Viewers use a wide range of information sources to provide information on programme content.

  • Printed material dominates as an information source – whether this is weekly television listing magazines, weekly or daily newspapers.
  • Use of the Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and flicking through channels in multichannel households is as frequently cited as printed material.

The first phase of the research asked for viewer’s initial thoughts on a number of questions related to programme information

The majority of viewers feel that current programme information sources are adequate.

  • Over half of people feel there is currently sufficient programme information and a majority of these are largely satisfied.
  • However, just over a third of adults claim they would like more information on programme content prior to viewing, with more people wanting “a little more” rather than “a lot more”.
  • There were no major differences by platform user type (terrestrial versus multichannel versus Personal Video Recorder (PVR) versus Video On Demand (VOD)), suggesting that perceived needs do not change with time-shifted viewing.
  • However, there is a stronger desire for more information about content on the smaller cable and satellite channels.

However, half of UK adults express some level of concern regarding programme content.

  • When asked directly, half of adult television viewers expressed some level of concern regarding what is shown on television these days.
    • The older the viewer, the more concerned they were.
    • Female viewers were more likely to be offended than their male counterparts.
  • Those in terrestrial households were more likely to be concerned than those in multichannel homes, however as the former tended to comprise older viewers, this could be an age-related finding – not a platform finding.
  • Violence, bad language and sexual content were the issues most likely to offend.
  • A third of people claimed to be offended at least once a month, 1 in 5 claimed to be offended less than every 6 months, and a further 1 in 5 claimed to be never offended by what they see on television.

Programme information is considered helpful by many viewers in its ability to mitigate offence.

  • Over half of all adult television viewers claimed that pre-transmission information helped to reduce potential offence.
  • Programme information’s ability to mitigate offence was felt more strongly by parents and those in multichannel households.

There are stronger needs and concerns among parents on behalf of their children.

  • Parents claimed they would like more programme information when considering viewing decision made for their children. However, they still showed high levels of satisfaction with current information.
  • Parents were more aware of content control measures such as the 9.00pm watershed and age classification for films, than non-parents.
  • Around half of parents spontaneously claimed they had some concerns regarding television content when considering their child’s viewing habits. This rose to three quarters when prompted.
  • The same issues that offend them as adults, offend them as parents.
  • Parents were likely to send their children out of the room if something they considered harmful or offensive was on television.

Once respondents had considered the issues in more depth they were again asked for their views.

Deliberation led to a greater desire for programme information across all channels - particularly for terrestrial viewers.

  • There was an increase in dissatisfaction with existing programme information post deliberation.
  • Perceptions of programme information’s ability to mitigate offence increased significantly after the consideration period.

When given a choice, viewers express a preference for on-screen text based programme information.

  • Viewers were presented with the options of text based information, symbols, age ratings or the existing EPG information.
  • On balance respondents preferred the on-screen text based information option shown to them, both before the deliberation period and after it.
  • Text was thought to give more detail as to the nature of the programme content.
  • The vast majority of viewers would also prefer all channels to use the same information system.

Next steps

This research does not provide overwhelming evidence of a need at the present time for more programme information, particularly for the main broadcasters. However, the continued diversification of sources of content (e.g. television provided over the internet or mobile television) and the expected rise in PVR ownership and the availability of on demand content, may lead to consumers needing more support in managing their own and their family’s viewing in the future. Consistent with Ofcom’s regulatory principle to always seek the least intrusive regulatory mechanisms to achieve its policy objectives we consider voluntary action by industry, with the support of Ofcom, to be the most effective course at this time..

Ofcom proposes to invite stakeholders – through the Audio Visual Content Information Working Group or similar representative body - to consider the creation of a common framework to be used across the audiovisual content industries on a self regulatory, voluntary basis. This framework will then be made available to all interested parties - and Ofcom would encourage it to be used, although its use would be voluntary.

Ofcom will encourage stakeholder to address the information needs related to

  • content featuring violence, bad language and sexual content

By providing

  • information at the point of choice (through selection screens, EPGs and print listings etc)
  • information in the form of consistent text labels (related to the nature, frequency and intensity of materials likely to offend).

Consistent use of language to describe content will assist viewers in making judgements about the suitability of materials.

Ofcom recognise the editorial and technical differences in the provision of audiovisual content on different platforms. We also recognise that the viewing experience and expectations across different platforms could suggest different ways of achieving the overall goal of providing adequate information about content to allow viewers to make informed choices.

The full document is available below: