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Uses and Gratifications of Satellite TV in Egypt

Extract from a thesis submitted to the Journalism and Mass Communication Department, The American University in Cairo, June 1998

Introduction
When Marshall McLuhan spoke of the global village, he clearly had the web of electronic networks that encircle the world in mind. Certainly, instant communication on a world- wide basis is transforming society. As far as the electronic media are concerned, we are increasingly dealing with a world without frontiers. The amazing technological revolution with which McLuhan was so fascinated has not stood still. The advance of the technological revolution and its impact on the global village of the future can be seen from a variety of perspectives; arguably the most important is the possibility satellite television offers of making us continually aware of the state of this small planet on which we live and of our relationships and responsibilities toward each other.

The last decade has seen an enormous change in the television broadcasting scene across the world. Cable systems and satellite broadcasting have brought about a phenomenal increase in available television. Geostationary satellites can cover vast areas of the earth, regardless of the terrain or existing infrastructure such as telephone lines or cable systems. As few as three satellites placed strategically over the equator can achieve coverage of the entire earth. When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon almost 30 years ago, 500 million people on earth watched the event live via three Intelsat satellites over the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.

A satellite is a highly complex electronic device that typically requires two years and millions of dollars to build. The two most important components are the solar panels, which power the satellite, and the communications payload, which accesses, amplifies and retransmits the signal. The use of higher-powered KU band satellites means that much smaller antennas can be used down on the ground. Because a satellite's footprint is usually quite broad, anyone possessing proper equipment can receive a downlink signal.

Direct Broadcasting Satellite has been defined by the International Telecommunication Union as a radio communication service, in which signals transmitted or retransmitted by space stations are intended for direct reception by the general public. Today, the term DBS is commonly used to refer to any satellite TV service that is intended for direct pickup at the subscriber's home. DBS beams radio and TV program signals from originating stations directly to homes via high powered satellite transmitters, meaning that people within the coverage area of the satellite's broadcast signals receive programming through their own dishes directly from the satellite transmitter rather than through the terrestrial transmission of a local station.

In 1992, while orbiting the earth in a space shuttle, a Japanese scientist named Dr. Mamoru Mohri gave a lesson to Japan's elementary-school children. In this lesson, which was broadcast live from space, Dr. Mohri explained: Looking down from space, the Earth is blue and beautiful. Its oceans, deserts, forests and cities are all discernible. But no national borders can be seen. Broadcasting via DBS necessarily involves international issues, because with satellite signals, like our planet viewed from space, national borders are undetectable. International broadcasting from satellites, especially DBS, has created controversy because governments have no effective control over signals of other countries whose programs might not be deemed suitable for audiences in their own countries, who can nevertheless receive the signals by simply installing a small dish.

Statement of Importance of the Study
With the global expansion of communication satellite, Cairo's rooftops are now filled to overflowing with satellite dishes. Satellite viewing was at first only for the privileged; when satellite dishes were first introduced in Egypt in late 1980s, the price of a basic setup reached LE30,000 (around US $9,000). But presently, a standard complete receiving system of 120 cm-diameter dish costs only LE1,750.1 While no official figures exist, the number is estimated to be at least 750,000 giant C-band dishes in Cairo alone, most of them 2.4 meters. A wide range of satellite channels are available in the Arabic language; the relatively recent launch of the second generation of Arabsat had a high impact, delivering almost 30 active analog services. English-language channels are only available through pay-TV bouquets of the Orbit Network and the Viacom/Showtime Network (with the exception of NBC). Asiasat 2 is located very low over the horizon, and a lot of Indian entertainment programming can also be received via PanAmSat 4 68.4 degrees East.

In view of the lack of up-to-date statistics and research on the impact of satellite TV on Egyptian viewers, this study's main purpose is to explore the uses and gratifications of satellite TV viewers in Egypt. It is important for government officials, media operators and TV producers to know why people watch satellite TV and how this viewing affects national television. For social scientists the impact of satellite TV on viewers as well as the type of acceptance given to satellite TV content represent an area of study that has not yet been subject to deep investigation.

Research Questions

  1. What are the uses and gratifications of satellite TV viewing among viewers in satellite TV households? 
  2. What are the most important cognitive and affective needs that are sought from satellite TV?
  3. Does national television still serve as a medium for public awareness and information and entertainment for satellite TV households?
  4. What is the rank order of news sources for satellite TV viewers?
  5. What is the amount of time spent with satellite TV?
  6. What is the amount of time spent with national TV in satellite TV households?
  7. What are the favorite Arabic channels for satellite TV viewers?
  8. What are the favorite international channels for satellite TV viewers?
  9. What are the program genres preferred by satellite TV viewers?
  10. What are satellite TV viewers' opinions about the impact of satellite TV on society?

Measurement
The main purpose of using the Likert scale is to determine whether Egyptian satellite TV viewers can highly discriminate between their cognitive and affective gratification needs as a goal-directed measure of their satellite TV viewing motivations. Therefore, a Likert-type scale was chosen to specify reasons for watching satellite TV. The scale had four points: (1) strongly agree, (2) moderately agree, (3) moderately disagree, and (4) strongly disagree.

The researcher selected a list of 19 items. Some were borrowed from the uses and gratification literature and some were added. These items were designed to measure five independent factors--understanding, learning, relaxation, companionship, and diversion--and to measure the two research concepts of cognitive and affective satellite TV viewing motivations.

  1. Because it passes the time away.
  2. Because it makes me feel less lonely.
  3. Because it is exciting and entertaining.
  4. Because it is a pleasant rest.
  5. To forget about my problems.
  6. Because no friends are around.
  7. To escape from the reality of everyday life.
  8. Because it calms me down when I am in temper.
  9. To watch uncensored shows and programs.
  10. Because it is always there 24 hours a day.
  11. Because there is a wide variety of channels to choose from.
  12. Because national television is not interesting any more.
  13. To obtain information about foreign lifestyles, thoughts and culture.
  14. Because it is interesting.
  15. To participate in discussions with my friends.
  16. To understand what's going on in the world.
  17. So I can learn from things happening in the world.
  18. To observe foreign traditions and culture.
  19. To obtain useful information for daily life.

The Sample 
The sample of this study was categorized demographically as follows: Gender: Males made up 57 percent of the total sample and females 43 percent. Age: Young adults, 18-30 years old, represented 50 percent of the total sample and older adults, 30-60 years old, represented the remaining 50 percent. Education: Highest level reached can be summarized as follows: Post-graduate degree: 11% of the total sample University graduates: 69% High school graduates: 15.5% Elementary school graduates: 4.5%

The sample chosen consisted of 310 viewers in Cairo who subscribe to satellite guides. Since this group of satellite TV viewers has subscribed to a satellite guide, it is presumed that they are highly selective and their viewing is goal-directed, and that, therefore, the receiver will attend only to the message (content) he or she wants. The systematic probability sample is stratified to include randomly chosen subscribers of Sat World monthly guide, TV Dish monthly guide, and Satellite Guide bi-monthly and weekly subscribers.

Major Findings and Discussion 

Table: Satellite TV Viewing Motivations

Based on a 1998 survey of 310 satellite television viewers in Cairo, Egypt who subscribe to satellite guides

Affective needs:
Agree (no/%)
Disagree (no/%)
Agree Rank
1. Because it passes the time away
190
39%
110
35%
4
2. Because it makes me feel less lonely
121
75%
180
58%
8
3. Because it is exciting and entertaining
231
52%
67
22%
2
4. Because it is a pleasant rest
160
22%
130
42%
6
5. To forget about my problems
69
9%
225
73%
9
6. Because no friends are around
28
18%
266
86%
12
7. To escape from realities of everyday life
55
61%
236
76%
10
8. Because it calms me down when I'm in temper
43
14%
242
78%
11
9. To watch uncensored programs
129
42%
162
52%
7
10. Because national TV is not interesting
170
55%
124
40%
5
11. Because it's always on (24 hours a day)
218
70%
76
25%
3
12. Because there is a wide variety of channels
274
88%
26
8%
1
Cognitive needs:
Agree (no/%)
Disagree (no/%)
Agree Rank
13. To understand what's going on in the world
276
89
26
8
1
14. To learn from things happening in the world
250
81
44
14
2
15. To observe foreign traditions and cultures
244
79
54
17
4
16. To obtain useful information for daily life
246
79
50
16
3
17. Because it is interesting
214
69
78
25
5
18. To obtain information about foreign lifestyles
236
76
52
20
6
19. To participate in discussions with friends
134
43
152
49
7

 

Hypothesis 1: A higher number of viewers from the satellite TV households tend to watch for cognitive rather than affective needs (that is, for time consumption and entertainment motivations or for non-escapist motives).

Results showed support for this hypothesis:

*89 percent of the total sample reported that they watch satellite TV to understand what's going on in the world. *81 percent watch satellite TV to learn from things happening in the world. *79 percent watch to obtain useful information for daily life. *79 percent want to observe foreign cultures and traditions. *76 percent watch to obtain information about foreign lifestyles.

We can observe that understanding is the most important cognitive need reported by total respondents in satellite TV households. Diversity is the most important reported affective need, with 88 percent responding.

Much controversy is raised over satellite TV programming and content, and the amount of sex and pornography shown on its screen. A desire to watch uncensored shows and programs' was reported as a reason to watch satellite TV by 42 percent of the total respondents, while 52 percent disagreed that this is a reason to watch satellite TV.

H2: Viewers in satellite TV households tend to watch more satellite TV than national TV.

The number of hours spent daily with satellite TV did indeed prove to be longer than the number of hours spent with national TV among this sample. 86 percent of viewers in the satellite TV households reported that they watch satellite TV every day, whereas only 49.7 percent of the sample watch national TV every day. When they do watch national TV, 70.3 percent reported that it is for 12 hours, the lowest time bracket, while only 40.6 percent of satellite viewers put their viewing in this category. Similarly, only 1.9 percent of the total respondents watch national TV for 68 hours daily, the highest time category, but 5.8 percent watch satellite TV 68 hours daily.

H3. A significantly larger number of viewers in satellite TV households tune to international satellite TV services than Arabic satellite TV services.

57.4 percent of the total number of viewers reported watching more international satellite TV services than Arabic satellite TV services, while 36.8 percent of the total respondents preferred Arabic satellite TV services. 1.9 percent stated an equal preference, and 3.9 percent gave no response.

H4. There is a significant relationship between satellite TV viewing motivations and media consumption. 
H4 (a) Satellite TV viewers with cognitive motivations are predicted to be light viewers. 
H4 (b) Satellite TV viewers with affective motivations are predicted to be heavy viewers.

To test this hypothesis, satellite TV viewers were divided into two groups, light viewers, who watch satellite TV for up to 7 hours per week (1 hour/day), and heavy viewers, who watch satellite TV more than 7 hours per week (>1 hour/day). It is noteworthy that the total number of light viewers from the total sample is 28, whereas the total number of heavy viewers is 260. In other words, the majority of viewers in the satellite TV households are heavy viewers.

Eighty-six percent of viewers who watch satellite TV up to 7 hours a week (light viewers) gave as their primary reason for viewing because there is a wide variety of channels. The most popular response among heavy viewers, with 93 percent, was that they watch satellite TV to understand what's going on in the world. Diversity is the next highest motivation for heavy viewers in the satellite TV households; 92 percent reported that they watch satellite TV because there is a wide variety of channels.

H5. A significant number of viewers in satellite TV households rely on satellite TV as the major news source. 
H5 (a) Arabic satellite TV services will come first in the news source rank order. 
H5 (b) International satellite TV services will come second in news source rank order. 
H5 (c) Egyptian national television will come last in the news source rank order.

As the hypothesis expected, in general, satellite TV viewers rely on satellite TV as a major news source. Arabic satellite TV services were ranked first with a mean score of 197.7. International satellite TV services came in second place with a mean score 186.7. Newspapers followed with a mean score of 170.7; Egyptian TV with a mean score of 123.0 was ranked fourth, and radio stations ranked last with a mean score of 121.7.

H6. There is an evident difference between satellite TV and national TV program genre preference for viewers in satellite TV households.

Mean scores were calculated as well as a rank order for all 16 satellite TV program genres listed in the questionnaire in order to come up with the following top six, ranked by order of preference:

  1. News
  2. Foreign movies
  3. Music programs
  4. Arabic movies
  5. Sports programming
  6. Foreign series

Preferences in Egyptian television programs were ranked differently, the top six being:

  1. Arabic movies
  2. Foreign movies
  3. News
  4. Foreign series
  5. Music programs
  6. Arabic series

Sports programs, fifth in the satellite preferences, is seventh in the Egyptian TV list. Arabic series ranks ninth among satellite TV preferences.

H7. Age is a significant factor in determining the uses and gratifications of satellite TV viewing. 
H7 (a) Young adults (18-29 years old) are more likely to seek to fulfill affective needs. 
H7 (b) Older adults (30-60 years old) are more likely to seek to fulfill cognitive needs.

The highest percentage of "agree" responses among young adults viewers in satellite TV households was for the reason "Because there is a wide variety of channels" (90 percent). This answer falls in the "diversity" category, an affective need. This was the most popular response among older adults as well, also at 90 percent.

From the above we can say that diversity of channels is the prominent viewing reason for both young and older adults viewers in satellite TV households. Hence, this result does not support the hypothesis.

H8 Gender is a significant factor in determining the uses and gratifications of satellite TV viewers. 
H8 (a) Males are more likely to seek to fulfill cognitive needs. 
H8 (b) Females are more likely to seek to fulfill affective needs.

The results significantly support this hypothesis. The highest "agree" percentage among by male respondents, 91 percent, was given to "understanding what's happening on in the world," which falls in the understanding category of cognitive needs.

The highest number of female viewers in satellite TV households, 94 percent, agreed to the reason "because there is a wide variety of channels." In other words, females are more likely to watch satellite TV for reasons of its diversity, thus, fulfilling affective/escapist needs.

H9 A significant number of satellite TV viewers believe satellite TV has a positive impact on society.

Eighty-nine percent of the total sample reported that they think that satellite TV has an impact on society, whereas 5.2 percent answered that they don't know if satellite TV has an impact on society or not. Of that 89 percent, 70.9 percent think that the impact on society is a positive one. 10.3 percent believe the impact is a negative one. Other subjects thought that it has both positive and negative impact on society and 12.3 percent answered that they didn't know.

Additional Findings

  • 7.7 percent of the total sample were recent satellite TV viewers, owning their receiving systems for 1-6 months. 18 percent had owned satellite equipment for 6-12 months. The highest percentage of ownership duration in the selected sample was in the range from 1-2 years, with 36.1 percent. That was followed by 3-4 years with also a relatively high percentage of 26.6 percent. Only 5.8 percent of the total sample were found to own satellite TV receiving systems for more than four years. 5.8 percent did not state their exact ownership duration.
  • Results showed that 24.5 percent of the sample also have access to cable TV via decoders.
  • 44.6 percent of the total sample have two TV sets, and 29 percent own three sets. 11.6 percent own one TV and 11.6 percent possess more than three TV sets at home. The remaining 3.2 percent did not state the number of TV sets in their house
  • Respondents were asked to write down their favorite Arab and international channels. The researcher calculated the top 10 international satellite TV channels and results revealed the following:
  1. CNNI: 138 respondents
  2. Euronews: 126 respondents
  3. NBC Super Channel and Eurosport share third place with 78 respondents each.
  4. The music channel MTV: 74 respondents
  5. The Italian channel RAI UNO: 46 responses
  6. The French channel TV5: 38 respondents
  7. The music channel MCM: 34 respondents.
  8. Turkish SHOW TV and Israeli channel 2 shared the 8th place with 32 responses each.
  9. The Spanish channel TVE and Israel 1 shared ninth place with 24 responses each.
  10. BBC World: 20 responses

The top 10 Arabic satellite channels were calculated as follows:

  1. The Lebanese channel LBC: 246 respondents
  2. MBC: 174 respondents
  3. The Saudi network ART: 140 respondents
  4. The Lebanese channel Future TV: 104 respondents
  5. The Egyptian Space Channel (ESC): 70 respondents
  6. Dubai TV: 60 respondents.
  7. ANN (Arab News Network), a relatively recent news channel: 36 respondents
  8. The United Arab Emirates channel Abu Dhabi TV: 34 responses
  9. The news channel al-Jazeera: 32 respondents.
  10. Kuwait TV: 24 respondents.

From the previous results, the researcher came up with indications on satellite TV viewership, which could be summarized as follows:

  • Viewers in the satellite TV households tend to watch specialized channels. It is evident that news (CNN, Euronews, BBC, ANN, al-Jazeera), music (MTV, MCM) sports channels (EuroSport) were listed as the channels most frequently watched.
  • News channels represent the highest percent of the favorite channels. This is consistent with previous findings that show that 89 percent of the overall sample watch satellite TV to understand what is going on in the world.
  • The language of the channel could be an important factor in attracting viewers. In the list of favorite international channels, it was obvious that English-language channels are most watched by subjects; six of the top ten international channel broadcast in English. This could be an indication that English is the most widely spoken foreign language among educated Egyptians (two French-language channels, MCM and TV5, also appear among the top-10 list, along with two Italian channels, and one Turkish channel. Russian, German, Mandarin and other available foreign-language channels do not appear on the list.)

This could also explain why some Arabic channels do not enter the list of favorites, as some Arabic countries with satellite channels, such as Yemen, Morocco, Tunis, and Libya, use dialects unfamiliar to Egyptian viewers. However, this cannot be considered the only factor for the lower popularity of these channels in Egypt; poor programming and repetition are additional factors that lead viewers to tune to the more attractive and richer programming of other Arabic-language channels.

Conclusions and Recommendations
The evolution of global communications and its rapid development has given rise to a strong interest in the television as medium. This has been clearly evidenced by the proliferation of antennas for the reception of satellite services throughout the Middle East. The content of much satellite programming is inconsistent with the culture and religion of the region, as it depicts excessive violence and highly unacceptable sexual behavior according to the mores of Middle Eastern culture. Yet, properly executed, satellite TV is also an excellent family device for entertainment, learning, and communication.

Viewers are demanding more information, more entertainment and more news programs. Today television programming must meet viewer's expectations (and advertiser's desires as well) in order to attract viewers to a particular channel. In an atmosphere of heavy competition among stations, this cannot be achieved unless more creative programs and graphics are produced. In fact, one of the most noticeable differences between Eastern channels and Western ones is that the Western channels have a higher level of sophistication in their use of graphics and advanced technology.

The present investigation was an exploratory examination of the satellite TV viewing motives of Egyptian adults. The researcher suggests future investigations on the impact of satellite TV on various ages in society, the sociological impact of satellite TV on Egyptian family social activities, and the possible impact of satellite TV on youth concerning their social, educational and economic behavior. Since news proved to be the most important program type watched by adult Egyptian satellite TV viewers, a special content analysis and comparison may be applied to come up with the format most favored by Egyptian audiences, especially with the recent launch of the Nile Specialized News Channel; the same applies to sports, drama, and children's channels. A content analysis of satellite TV channels most watched by Egyptian audiences could be conducted to investigate their favorite issues and formats.

About Hala Abdel Rahman

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