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Tossing Script for Live Broadcast Could Boost Some TV Ratings


Study From Carnegie Mellon and INSEAD Suggests Benefits for Viewers and Advertisers

September 28, 2006 - PITTSBURGH—While broadcast networks around the globe battle to earn and keep the highest viewer ratings, a new study from researchers at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and INSEAD, one of the world’s leading graduate business schools, suggests that some of these networks might benefit significantly by tossing the script and going to a live format for certain types of shows — such as game or talk shows — to increase their attractiveness to both viewers and advertisers.

The study, which appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, measured audience reaction among students in Germany and Singapore to live and tape-delayed versions of several programs.

“The appeal of live broadcasts lies in the fact that viewers know that the event has not been decided beforehand, and how it unfolds is decided as it happens. It is this perception of indeterminacy that makes live broadcasts more appealing than tape-delayed broadcasts,” says Tepper School Assistant Professor of Marketing Joachim Vosgerau, who led the study along with INSEAD Professors Klaus Wertenbroch and Ziv Carmon. “If the process of a live-broadcast event is perceived to be unscripted or indeterminate, the program is significantly more appealing to the viewer than if the process is perceived to be predetermined or scripted.”

Live Broadcasts More Appealing When Unscripted
In one study, 246 university students in Singapore were asked about their preference for watching a fictitious reality TV dating show (modeled after ABC’s “The Bachelorette”) broadcast both live and tape-delayed, as well as in scripted and unscripted versions. Participants were 12 percent more likely to watch the show when it was unscripted and broadcast live rather than tape-delayed. In contrast, no differences in likelihood of watching were found between live and taped-delayed broadcasts when the show was scripted.

The researchers also measured the responses of 80 students in Germany to two types of broadcast programming: a highly anticipated European soccer match and a lottery drawing for which the participants owned a ticket. Half of the students were told they would be viewing both events live, while the other half viewed a tape-delayed broadcast without advance information about the outcome.

The results show that participants were 14 percent more likely to watch the soccer match when it was broadcast live rather than taped. However, participants were not more likely to watch the lottery drawing when it was shown live. The reason, according to Vosgerau, is that soccer matches — as with all sports competitions — are not only watched for the outcome, but more importantly for their processes (or how the game unfolds). In contrast, lottery drawings are watched only for their outcome — or which number wins — and broadcasting them live does not enhance their appeal compared to broadcasting them taped.

“A live broadcast preserves the indeterminacy of the process, and thus is more appealing than a taped-delayed broadcast,” Vosgerau said.

The Benefits of Going Live
The study’s findings indicate that certain types of unscripted broadcast fare, such as game shows, talk shows and reality TV, could significantly benefit from going to a live format. However, when viewers perceive processes as predetermined — such as those in partially or fully scripted sitcoms, dramas or professional wrestling — the shows would not likely experience any benefit from being shown live.

“Because certain types of programs already feature indeterminacy of process, broadcasting them live would make them even more attractive to viewers and, most likely, a more attractive advertising vehicle for broadcasters,” said Vosgerau.

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About the Tepper School of Business: Founded in 1949, the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon is a pioneer in the field of management science and analytical decision-making. The school’s notable distinctions include a unique contribution to the intellectual community, including six Nobel prizes in economics and a consistent presence in the top tier of national and international business school rankings. The Tepper School was recently named the No. 3 business school in the U.S. by The Wall Street Journal. For more information on the Tepper School, visit


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