"The study is dimensionalizing what people consider to be offensive, and trying to understand better what's offending them and what are the appropriate things to do about it," said Susan Nathan, the study's co-author and senior vice president, director of media knowledge at the Interpublic Group media shop. "One thing I learned is that if people expect it, then it's more acceptable. If Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' appeared on the MTV Video Awards instead of the Super Bowl, no one would have batted an eye, given the content of the show."
So despite the "family friendly" push lately, 48 percent of adults were personally offended by something they saw on television in the last three months. The study indicates that the quality of TV programming today is not "mainstream" enough, Nathan said.
When looking at women versus men, the findings indicated that TV is failing the matriarch of the family more often than not, as 58 percent of women were offended.
"Both programmers and advertisers should be wary of these numbers, as the female head of the household is often the gatekeeper to family viewing," Nathan said. Just 37 percent of men were offended in the last 3 months, she added.
"It is not surprising--given the controversy surrounding female roles on TV--that women are most offended by explicit sexual references or visuals [56 percent]," Nathan said. "By contrast, men are most offended by a program that they feel insults their intelligence [46 percent]."
Men tend to feel that offensive subjects in programs are only appropriate for programming after 9 p.m. They should be listed for mature audiences. Prior to 9 p.m., they feel that "sexual themes/imagery" should not be tolerated, even when the program is listed as mature.
Women expressed even stronger opinions about offensive content. They feel that programs with any type of offensive content are not appropriate before 9 p.m.--even when the program is intended for mature audiences. Of all types of material, only one subject wouldn't be tolerated by women after 9 p.m.: gross and disgusting subject matter.
In the end, it all comes down to context, Nathan said, noting that what's right for a gritty crime drama like "CSI" wouldn't hit the right notes when transmuted to a light comedy like "Everybody Loves Raymond."
When asked about hearing a profane word in an episode of 'Everybody Loves Raymond," women were 40 percent more likely to be very offended hearing this on "Raymond" than on "CSI," the study said. And when women were asked how offended they would be if they saw a dead body in an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond," the study noted that they were twice as likely to be offended as seeing this same image in "CSI."
"Most people, if they see something that offends them--they'll just change the channel or leave the room, or not watch that show anymore," Nathan said. "E-mail makes it easy for people to threaten advertisers, and that still has the power to scare them. Everyone still remembers Terry Rakolta, the housewife who tried to start a boycott against advertisers who supported Fox's 'Married With Children.' And no one wants to have to deal with something like that. Broadcast networks have looked to push the envelope and compete with cable shows like 'The Sopranos.'"