How TV is changing your life
We've watched the effects of TV in the U. S. Now, after three years, we're finding out what it does to Canadians. Is it killing other entertainment? Does it hurt your children? Can you live without it? These answers will surprise you
WHEN the CBC first began planning for TV, Fergus Mutrie, television boss in Toronto, spent considerable time studying TV in other countries. After looking at it for a while, he made a remark that’s still remembered. “The trouble with television,” he said, “is that it’s hard to lie about it fast enough to keep up with the truth.” Now, with Canada in its third year of television, his comment is more accurate than ever.
After a slow start, Canada has advanced faster in TV coverage than any country in the world. The number of sets has grown from 146,000 in September 1952 to more than 900,000. By January 1955, twenty-two stations are expected to be on the air and 1,050,000 sets will be tuned to them. The automotive and radio booms arrived in different eras, but even if they had arrived together they still wouldn’t have gone so far so fast as television has gone.
The pattern of TV’s influence on Canadians may be seen in that part of southern Ontario which has been exposed to television the longest. This section, the Toronto-Niagara-Hamilton area, lies within a sixty-mile radius of the centre of Toronto. There were approximately 340,000 TV homes there on Sept. 1 this year. When the Toronto-HamiltonNiagara area was first able to receive American TV in the winter of 1948-49, it was the well-to-do who bought sets. Right on their heels, however, came the low-income groups, with the middle class holding back. To the middle class, television seemed a luxury they could not afford.
Since early 1952, however, the middle class has been buying television steadily. International Surveys Limited, a Toronto firm on which the CBC relies, found that by April 1953 twenty-two percent of the TV sets in the Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara area were owned by the upper group (a definition based on factors such as home ownership, occupation, appliance and automobile ownership, income and so on), 37 percent by the upper middle, 26 percent by the lower middle and 15 percent by the low group. Between 65 and 70 percent of the sets now being sold in Ontario’s biggest metropolitan area are sold on the installment basis. Finance companies say that most of them go to people earning between fifty and seventy-five dollars a week. According to appliance dealers, this group is more anxious to buy television than stoves, refrigerators and washing machines.
This confirms a recent finding by the British television authority, Dr. Roger Manvell, who says that “given two neighboring families of broadly similar economic status but of differing educational levels . . . the family where the educational level is lower is likely to acquire a television set first.”
Also, Manvell says, the hours given up to viewing increase with the lower-income groups. In other words, the more wealth and education the viewer has the less he’s inclined to look at television as a casual habit.
When television first enters the home it is a fabulous novelty and a great deal of time is spent looking at anything that comes over. For example, Elliott-Haynes Limited, a Canadian survey outfit, has found that where homes have had TV for less than six months ninety percent have their sets on between 9 and 10 p.m. This figure drops gradually until after two years eighty-one percent are watching programs at this time. Surveys also show that in the average home with a new set five people sit and watch; after two years the same set attracts only four viewers.
Canadians watch their TV just as avidly as Americans, according to the survey people, but. they don’t watch it as long each day, perhaps because our stations don’t go on the air until afternoon, although in the Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara area the U. S. stations can be seen before that time. The average American family watches TV four and a quarter hours every day. Canadian owners spend about forty-five minutes less with their sets.
With so much of the family leisure time devoted to television, obviously other activities have to be readjusted. Dinnertime is frequently set by network schedules. In Canadian surveys, nearly two thirds of women said their families often eat and watch television at the same time. They had meals which could be served on one platter and eaten off coffee tables or laps.
When television started it seemed obvious to many that radio would be supplanted. Now ElliottHaynes surveys reveal that the daytime radio audience is as great as ever but evening listening has been cut in half. But radio still fights back— sometimes quite spectacularly. Last September 9, the night of the Marilyn Bell swim, radio listening jumped to 46.5 percent and at 8.30 p.m. it was 63.7, which meant two out of three homes in the Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara area had their radios on. “Radio naturally took over, because television is too cumbersome for such coverage,” explained J. M. Leckie, vice-president of Elliott-Haynes.
Aside from special events, however, almost half of all TV homes listen to the radio every morning of the week. Almost one TV home in every three listens to the radio in the afternoon and about one in five listens in the evening. The main radio attraction is news, which most homes would rather hear than view. But on balance TV is easily winning over radio. Its ascendancy reaches a peak between 11.30 p.m. and midnight when for every three persons listening to radio, 97 are looking at TV. The Association of Canadian Advertisers, which gathered this arresting figure, comments, “It’s not that TV is cutting into radio so much. But before TV people went to bed earlier.”
The average audience of an evening radio program, according to Elliott-Haynes, now consists of approximately 2.75 persons per set. Women listeners slightly outnumber men and are twice as numerous as child listeners. The television audience in the same Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara area has been found to average 4.20 viewers with the pattern reversed: four men for every three women, with the number of children nearly equal to the number of men.
If people are staying at home more to watch television, a natural conclusion would be that they now go to the movies much less. This view is supported by an Elliott-Haynes survey. Interviewers in the Toronto-Hamilton-Niagara area enquired at 1,500 television homes where the set was turned on when they called: “Since buying your television set, have you gone to the movies more, less or about the same as before?” Almost nine out of ten answered “less.” These figures, however, are subject to many qualifications. No distinction was made between new and old TV homes. Moreover, a study made by the University of Oklahoma shows that many TV owners don’t remember what they did before they owned sets.
At the movie box office for several years there has been a definite slump. But the president of Para-
mount Pictures, Barney Balaban, insists: “Analysis has failed to show any direct relationship between the rise of television and the decline of our business.” The brokerage firm of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Beane has issued a report which says box-office receipts and television-set sales show little correlation. The report points out that there was no TV in Canada when television began to compete with the movies in the U. S., yet movie box-office receipts were down just as much in Canada as they were in the U. S.
Daniel Starch and Staff, a research organization, also found that the movie audience was thinning out long before TV sales started to climb. But it discovered also that the decline in the movie audience got faster the same time that TV interest speeded up.
The editor of Canadian Film Weekly, Hye Bossin, refers to television as a “passing blight.” “Of course a lot of people are staying away from movies,” he says. “After about six months they start coming back to the movies.” The director of the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, C. J. Appel, admits that a number of neighborhood theatres have shut down on account of TV. “On the other hand,” he says, “there are lineups at all the big movie houses.” Appel claims that 1954 produced the largest first-run theatre audience in Canada’s history.
“In the movie industry history is repeating itself,” he says. “When radio first came it was supposed to kill off the movies; but sound was put into the movies and the audience bounced right back. Now the same thing is beginning to happen with the introduction of CinemaScope, Vista Vision and Stereophonic Sound. Gone With The Wind played to more people on the wide screen than it did when it was new fifteen years ago.”
But other men in competing branches of entertainment are gloomier. “Attendance has dropped at concerts, plays, sports and every kind of spectator activity and it’s all on account of television,” says R. Julian, manager of Moodey’s Ticket Agency in Toronto. “I’m as much a victim as anyone. I get tickets to all sorts of fine performances but once I’m home and the television is on I’m trapped.” P. V. Johnson, manager of Eaton Auditorium, one of the country’s largest concert halls, confirms the drop in attendance but he doesn’t blame television. “Attendance began falling in 1946 before any television was seen in this area,” he says. “During the war concert going was at its height and more money was available for entertainment because there were restrictions on consumer goods. Now people have bought houses, refrigerators and cars and they have to save money to meet installment payments and upkeep.”
Does It Hurt Sports Gate?
TV presents a far more complicated problem to sports than to other spectator activities because sports themselves are among the favorite shows on TV. If the TV camera’s Zoomar lens can improve on a 50-yard-line seat right in your own living room, what does it do to the attendance at the stadiums and arenas?
Up to now sports promoters don’t agree. Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto won’t televise its baseball games. Big Four football games are blacked out on television in the cities where they are being played and shown the next day on film. For example, when the Toronto team is in Ottawa, the game is seen in Toronto but not in Ottawa; the next day Ottawa sees the film. Hockey games are televised from Maple Leaf Gardens and Connie Smythe, the Gardens president, believes that the slightly reduced attendances have nothing to do with it; in fact he thinks the slight decline in gates might have been greater without television. In his view TV makes new fans. This contention is apparently borne out by the attendance at wrestling matches, also televised from the Gardens. More women are now present.
“If a sports fan has to stay at home,” Smythe says, “it’s better to have him watch sports on TV than watch a variety show. That way he remains a potential customer for the next fight or hockey game.”
Smythe’s theories on television and sport are partly corroborated by two American reports. Cunningham and Walsh, Inc., a New York advertising firm, has found that television delivers new customers to sports events. This firm has taken New Brunswick, N.J., 40,200 population and thirty miles from New York, and renamed it “Videotown, U.S.A.” For the past six
years TV in Videotown has been under constant watch. “Sports attendance,” the most recent report says, “drops during the first two years of owning a TV set. Ardent baseball and football fans were watching the games from their living rooms, but TV sports were creating new fans who eventually went to the park to see for themselves.”
Madison Square Garden has televised almost all its sports events. Vice-president Ned Irish says, “It is not theory but fact that television has no adverse effect on gate receipts, except under extremely unfavorable weather conditions, or when the attraction is mediocre.”
One of the most thorough studies on any aspect of television is The Long Range Effects of Television on Sports Attendance, by Jerry N. Jordan. In his thesis for a Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania Jordan covered 787 universities, baseball clubs, arenas and other sports organizations from every state in the U. S. The following is a summary of his conclusions:
1) When a person first buys a set, his and his family’s attendance aí sports events goes down temporarily. Later —after one season in most sports — attendance returns to normal.
2) Different sports are affected differently. Football, with its short season and fewer games, is hurt more during the first season of TV ownership than baseball, with a longer season.
3) After one to two years the TV owner’s attendance at sports events is higher than that of nonowners.
4) TV owners take other members of their families to games more frequently than do nonowners.
5) Television, as it is today, will not harm attendance at sports events and may help it.
If television is occupying a viewer’s reading time, circulation figures of newspapers and magazines don’t reveal it. The most recent statements of the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that circulation is climbing. Circulation managers of the three most popular magazines in the Toronto-NiagaraHamilton area—including Maclean’s -—say there has been no drop whatever in sales; most Canadian magazines are at or near all-time circulation highs. In the U. S. Daniel Starch and Staff showed that levels of magazine readership did not drop significantly during the rise of the TV audience. John Baasett Jr., publisher of the Toronto Telegram, says that newspapers in the Toronto area made the greatest gain at the time when TV was first introduced. “Television,” he believes, “stimulates interest in newspapers.”
A University of Oklahoma report called When TV Moves In indicates that the more a person watches TV the less likely he is to read books. But a prominent Toronto bookseller, Roy Britnell, says, “Business has never been better both in dollars and in units sold. TV seems to be no substitute for people who buy books.” Canadian publishers and book distributors say there’s now a greater demand for nonfiction, particularly How To books, and they feel that TV accounts for a decrease in light-fiction reading.
The National Opinion Research Centre of the University of Chicago produced statistics recently to show there was no decline in the reading of books by New York TV viewers who were already book readers. In Ontario Angus Mowat, the director of Public Library Service, says that in 1953 there were upwards of a million more books borrowed than in 1952; most of this circulation was in the area where TV is strongest. “But,” he cautions, “this increase is probably due to improvement of library service and certain tricks to make people reach for books.” One of these tricks is to keep the works of a classic author scattered in different-colored bindings so a reader will be more likely to take a copy of Trollope or Dickens, find that he likes it and come back for more.
The Toronto Public Libraries have opened two new branches since 1948. In 1948 circulation in all the branches was 3,990,029 volumes; in 1953 it had reached 4,727,903. The head of circulation, Miss A. M. Wright, says that only in “escape fiction”—westerns and romances has there been a slump and this interest, she is certain, has been absorbed by TV. “By showing viewers other countries and new ideas in household crafts,” she says, “TV has encouraged reading. We’ve simply taken the money we spent in light fiction and used it to obtain books on home decorating and home building.”
“Circulation is more significant now that TV is here, because reading is no longer just a pastime,” says Miss
Freda Waldon who is in charge of the main branch of Hamilton’s Public Libraries.
This opinion reflects the attitude of the many TV owners who find old habits reasserting themselves after the novelty of television has worn off. A furniture-company executive sums up this viewpoint: “Television forces me to be choosier. I no longer read, for instance, just for something to do but because I think I shouldn’t miss it. The other way round, I also have to be more selective about the television programs I watch, to have time for other activities.”
But although many family habits are restored soon after being changed by TV, the influence of TV often lingers. Veteran viewers whose moviegoing habits almost revert to normal still watch twenty-five hours of television for every visit to the theatre.
The concern of many parents over TV’s effect on their children is justified by a fact of which few of them are aware. Television marks the high point of a curve in the development of mass communication. Each new medium has tended to embrace a younger group of devotees. Newspapers and magazines, oldest of the four giants of mass communication, are read mainly by adults. Movies have been able to win the adolescents. Next, radio absorbed the preadolescent. With the advent of television, mass communication appears destined to absorb us from the cradle to the grave—television is viewed with rapt attention even by infants.
The first survey on the effect of TV
on Canadian children was conducted in j four Toronto public schools by the Toronto Women Teachers’ Association.
It was discovered that most children in TV homes spend between 25 and 30 hours a week watching it. The teachers found that many of the programs were violent, sensational and too stimulating for immature minds. They felt that children nurtured on TV would lose their desire to read and to create their j own fun. They wondered too if a child ! conditioned to viewing would not be fertile ground later for propaganda of all kinds.
Regarding programs of violence, the teachers pointed to a recent survey in southern California which proved the average child in a TV home saw death i inflicted forty times a week. The effect on the child was either that he became upset emotionally or callous to the sight of death and suffering. The Toronto teachers were also critical of health standards created by TV. “Surely,” they said, “crouching in a chair or stretching out on the floor for hours in a stuffy, overheated living room cannot be good for any child. What effect will it have on their posture and eyesight?”
The report caused parents a great deal of worry. In some districts they formed television study groups and [ other such reports followed. The most famous child expert in Canada, Dr. W. E. Blatz, remained calm. In his office at the Institute of Child Study, he explained, “I have no disasters to predict.” Blatz maintains, as he has for many years, that the most important factor for the child is the home. “As long as there is an atmosphere of affection plus responsibility in the home,” he says, “the child will make a healthy adjustment to his environment, whether it includes television or anything else.” He feels certain the children will take television in their stride, as an earlier generation of children did with radios and automobiles.
Does television affect students’ grades? Philip Lewis, assistant principal at South Shore High School in Chicago, has just completed a study which tends to reconcile to some degree the conflicting results reported in this area of research. It depends, according to Lewis, on the calibre of the student and what subjects he is studying. Students viewing TV more than fifteen hours a week usually skid in their scholastic standing if they are good students or lower. Only superior students can view fifteen hours or more a week without harm. Television helps students learn history, current events, English literature and some aspects of science; but the learning of subjects requiring much application, memorizing or reasoning is hindered by TV. These include grammar, mathematics and foreign languages.
The child of the electronic era may actually read more than his older brothers and sisters. The CBC has a television program called Hidden Pages on which children’s classics are narrated, dramatized and illustrated. The response is such that Miss Jean Thomson, head of Boys and Girls House, the children’s library in Toronto, has to get the titles of these books several weeks in advance to meet the requests that follow the program; there never are enough copies and so there’s always a waiting list.
A survey of the reading interests and problems of the teen-age group was recently completed by Miss Mary White, librarian of the Older Boys and Girls Section of Toronto libraries. Twentyone percent of the girls and 23 percent of the boys in Toronto’s secondary schools found that television interfered with their reading. A comparison was made between Grade 9 and Grade 13. Television interfered less with the older teen-agers’ reading and proved a problem to only 13 percent of the girls and 21 percent of the boys.
“Since the survey came oLit,” Miss White says, “we have learned that TV can have a positive as well as a negative relation to reading. Both teachers and librarians report that young people have asked for specific books and special information as a direct result of viewing TV programs. She thinks that while television can interfere with reading, and does when it’s first installed; the evidence shows that once the novelty wears off television will j work not so much in competition with books as in conjunction with them.”
The CBC was one of the first agencies anywhere to telecast school lessons, j The basis for this experiment was a I series called Life In Canada Today. Programs covered ranching in Alberta, uranium prospecting, the Kiti1 mat power project and the maple-sugar industry. In sugar making, professional actors carried out all the steps, using a dummy tree and other props. Films and animated charts provided further ! explanation. About 2,000 teachers were sent questionnaires; 592 returned them to the CBC. These teachers overwhelmingly approved the telecast experiment; ninety-four percent wanted it continued. They said students viewing the telecasts had a better knowledge of the subject than non-viewers and were more interested in the lesson.
At the University of Toronto there is a seminar devoted to studying communications. To test the power of television, a member of this seminar, Dr. Edmund Carpenter, professor of anthropology, conducted an experiment. One hundred and eight students in second-year General Arts were divided into four groups of equal ability. One of the four groups was seated in a studio and given a lecture on “linguistic codifications of reality,” just as they would be in a lecture room. A second group in another room followed the telecast of the lecture from a television set. A third group elsewhere heard the telecast as if on the radio. A fourth group read a printed report of the lecture. No notes were taken and all groups were supervised. Immediately after the program the 108 I students were given a test.
Of the four groups, those in the lecture studio and those who read the lecture tied with an average of 65 percent correct answers. The radio group averaged 69 percent and on top came the TV group with an average of 77 percent. Dr. Carl Williams, professor of psychology and a member of the seminar, worked out the statistics on the project. He said, “The conclusion one is forced to is that to a large extent the grades you made depended on which channel you received your information from.”
TV affects us all for better or for worse. Just before CBC television was launched, Gilbert Seldes, who for eight years was head of the Television Program Department of the Columbia Broadcasting System, was brought to Toronto to advise the inexperienced CBC staff. Television, he said then, will have an effect on our lives even if we never own a TV set and never see or hear a broadcast.
“The fatal weakness of all efforts to control the excesses and correct the errors of television in the U. S.,” he said, “is the attitude of people who think themselves untouched because they never look at inferior programs or never see television at all. It is not what one person can turn off, but what fifty accept that counts. There is no immunity—there is no place to hide.” it