Watching TV can be good for you
By: Alice Ingall
Last updated: Friday, 29 September 2023
As part of its centenary celebrations, Radio Times, in association with the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton, have today (Friday 29 September 2023) announced the preliminary results of The Screen Test, a ground-breaking research project exploring the power of television and radio in people’s lives.
Conducted from May-July 2023, with over 21,000 respondents, the first results of The Screen Test have revealed that despite the age-old adage that TV is bad for you, watching television can help us feel good.
Respondents said television overall provides a positive emotional connection, with levels of excitement increasing by 10% (vs boredom) and happiness by 5% (vs sadness), whilst anxiety decreased by 6% (vs relaxed) following the last programme they watched on television.
However, the way TV programmes affect people’s feelings depends on what they watch and who they are:
- Participants aged 18-54 years reported experiencing a higher increase in happiness (+13%) than those above 55 years old (+3%)
- Viewers’ happiness levels increased after watching comedy (+22%), music (+17%), arts (+13%) and entertainment (+12%) programmes
- Whilst the ever-popular soaps were linked with a decline in people’s happiness (-4%)
- And anxiety amongst viewers increased by 20% after watching news and the weather, with happiness decreasing by 15%.
The Screen Test also explored how people’s media habits relate to their personal qualities, including their levels of wellbeing, life values and personalities (using the Big Five personality inventory). The results reveal clear links between personal qualities and how people engage with different types of media in the on-demand world:
- Trust in people, overall wellbeing and life satisfaction are associated with greater radio listening.
- Binge-watchers are more empathetic and value stimulation, equality and hedonism more highly.
- Whilst the more conscientious among us binge-watch less.
- Streaming and podcast users are more open-minded and curious.
- Conformity or obedience was associated with traditional scheduled TV viewing.
The growth of streaming services and on-demand TV means more people than ever are binge-watching – and the results show it shouldn’t be seen as a guilty pleasure:
- The majority of people (81%) admit to binge-watching, at least on occasion, with over half (56%) stating they regularly do so.
- Binge-watching is associated with higher levels of empathy, a valuing of adventure, pleasure and equality.
- And the biggest motivation for binge-watching – simply “wanting to know what happens next”.
Professor Robin Banerjee, Professor of Developmental Psychology and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global and Civic Engagement at the University of Sussex, says:
“The Screen Test offers an unprecedented opportunity to learn more about the role of TV in people’s lives, at a time when the media landscape is changing rapidly. Hearing from over 21,000 people aged from 18 to over 90 gives us a window into not just what people prefer to watch, but also how and why. We found that the experience is not the same for everyone, but the increasing choice available to people gives them the option to find programmes that meet their needs. We were particularly struck by the social connections that were facilitated by TV for many people. The Screen Test sets an agenda for more research to understand how engaging positively with TV has the potential to play a role in wellbeing and community life.”
Tom Loxley, Joint Editor of Radio Times, adds: “We know plenty about what people think of TV – good, bad or indifferent – but nothing about how it makes them feel. Until now. In some ways you could say this insight is not only overdue, but we need it more than ever. A century on from the birth of Radio Times, having helped guide people through the radio revolution, and a near century of TV, today we are steering them through a blizzard of content produced not just by the traditional broadcasters but also a host of streaming services in the digital universe. Now, thanks to this research, we can begin to understand what motivates people to choose to watch what they do.”
Other findings in the research show that Reithian values still hold true in the digital age. A century on from the birth of the BBC and Lord Reith’s vision of its public service values - to inform, educate and entertain - remain relevant in the digital age. Audiences still primarily want to be entertained and informed, with 83% of respondents listing “to be entertained” as the dominant motivation for tuning in, followed by “getting information” or “learning new things”. The other most common words associated with TV were “relaxation” and “interesting”.
The preliminary results of The Screen Test were announced at a special event at the BFI Southbank on Thursday 28 September, by Tom Loxley, Joint-Editor of Radio Times, Professor Robin Banerjee, Professor of Developmental Psychology and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Global and Civic Engagement at the University of Sussex, and broadcaster, author and Visiting Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Sussex, Claudia Hammond. They were also joined on stage by BBC’s Chief Content Officer, Charlotte Moore, Channel 4's Chief Content Officer Ian Katz, and Managing Director of Prime Video UK, Chris Bird.
Further analysis will take place using data from The Screen Test and papers will soon be submitted for publication in scientific journals.