[Air-L] Family in the 21st century on TV

Jason Mittell jmittell at middlebury.edu
Wed Sep 16 18:02:45 PDT 2009

Barry wrote:

> I wonder -- and would love evidence -- if TV watching has become more
> personal TV watching instead of family TV watching -- so shows are
> narrowcasting their demographics much more. This would be true if each
> sentient HHold member had their own TV, and if many folks were getting
> their TV fix thru downloads, podcasts, iPhones, etc. (I know I'm being
> quasi-redundant here).

This is a fairly well-documented and not-so-recent phenomenon - a good
overview (now 12 years old!) is Joseph Turow's *Breaking Up America*, on the
rise of narrowcasting and market segmentation across media. I'm pretty sure
that more up-to-date statistical evidence is included in a number of the Pew
technology use surveys.

At the level of programming, there's no doubt that the full-family hit is a
rare exception today (*American Idol* is often pointed to as a hold-out, but
even that's fading), and advertisers are less interested in mass appeal
across broad audiences than dense homogeneous segments that can be more
easily sold specific goods. Virtually no scripted program aims for the full
"four quadrants" anymore (young & old across both genders), so the image of
the core family as the anchor for television's domestic representations has

Interestingly, whenever I teach this topic, my students agree with Turow's
diagnosis of market segmentation, but disagree with his judgment that this
is a bad thing - they see very little cultural utility to be watching the
same programs in the same rooms at the same time as their parents, as they
have rarely known that experience.


Jason Mittell, Associate Professor of American Studies and Film & Media
Chair of Film & Media Culture Department
Middlebury College
208 Axinn Center at Starr Library
Middlebury, Vermont 05753
(802) 443-3435 / fax: (802) 443-2805
Homepage: http://go.middlebury.edu/mittell
Blog: http://justtv.wordpress.com

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