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Commitment counts in TV

"Walking the Path," a new study of fans of "American Idol 2" by researchers at MIT and Initiative Media, indicates that loyal viewers of a television show are more likely to pay attention to the advertising.

This could mean a new era in programming strategy.

"Networks have long been preoccupied with producing programming to appeal to channel zappers. But this new research suggests that committed viewers may be more valuable to advertisers than viewers who flip from show to show," said Professor Henry Jenkins, director of MIT's Comparative Media Studies Program.

The properties of an individual program that encourage viewers' longer-term commitment seem to include serialization, ensemble casts, and appeals to audience participation and evaluation, Jenkins said.

In addition, according to the study, the more contact points a program offers, such as a web site or merchandising, the more loyalty fans display and the more likely it is that they'll pay attention to advertising messages occurring within the program.

Research for the study was based on interviews with fans of "American Idol 2," the offspring of the English TV show "Pop Idol" and "American Idol"--performance contest shows that embody media convergence.

The six authors selected fans of "American Idol 2" for study, they wrote, because the program weaves "talent show competitiveness with audience participation [via] cell phone-based instant messaging, web content, concerts, and merchandising [along] with abundant product placement and commercials that feature show contestants."

Thanks to all these media contact points, fans are engaged in "American Idol 2" as "active participants engaging in media rather than more or less passive media consumers," the authors wrote.

The study offers other insights into fan behavior. For example, viewers are much more likely to notice regular advertising and product placement while watching reality programs -- advertising is seen as less intrusive in the "reality" genre -- and people watching reality programs in groups are more likely to vote on contestants, visit related web sites and seek out related products.

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