Issue No. 1
Fall 1998
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Uses and Gratifications of Satellite TV in Egypt

By Hala Abdel Rahman

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

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 satelliteís 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 subscriberís 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 satelliteís 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 Japanís 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, Cairoís 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 studyís 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?

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 whatís 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. continued

Next page: Findings and Discussion
page 1 | 2
Table: Satellite TV Viewing Motivations

Copyright 1998 Transnational Broadcasting Studies
TBS is published by the Adham Center for Television Journalism, the American University in Cairo