Class Activity: Cable's Fragmented Audience

Document created by Catherine Burgess Employee on Mar 31, 2016
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Goal: determine if people who grew up with network television are still predisposed to watching it and if those who grew up on cable are not.


Time: 30 minutes (plus additional time for outside work)


1. Ask students the following pre-activity questions:

     a. Are you more aligned with a particular channel or just with types of shows? 

     b. What television channels do you enjoy watching with friends from your age group?

     c. Can you enjoy those same channels with people a generation older than you?


2. Make sure each student needs to have a copy of the local cable-channel chart in his or her area for reference. Have students independently interview one person from each of the following five age groups:

      a. 12–17

      b. 18–24

      c. 25–34

      d. 35–49

      e. 50–65.

The students should ask each individual to rate his or her top five networks or cable channels and then return to class with their data.


3. Description. In class (if the class is small) or before class (if the class is large), compile the students’ survey data in a table or chart. List all the channels down the far left column, list all the different age groups along the top, and fill in the information accordingly. 


4. Analysis. As the chart evolves, start looking for viewing patterns among the different age groups. Where are the younger groups situated in relation to the older groups? Do you have any hypotheses about why certain age groups gravitate toward certain networks or channels? Did anyone find it difficult to rate his or her top five networks or cable channels?


5. Interpretation. What can be said about these patterns? Do the younger viewers have more eclectic viewing habits than older viewers? Are there any surprises? How has cable affected this spectrum of ages? Do you think cable has had a profound cultural impact? Do you think this chart is representative? Is it problematic to make such a generalization?


6. Evaluation. Do cable choices fragment American culture? Is it possible to discuss television among different age groups? Is there anything besides television that creates a common cultural thread? Is specialized TV ultimately good or bad for democracy?


7. Engagement. Read the cable industry magazine Broadcasting & Cable (; you can sign up for temporary access) to get a sense of the main issues affecting the cable industry.