Viewers desert 'dull' shows: Watching TV retains its popularity only with the poor. Michael Leapman reports

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WATCHING television is becoming less significant as a leisure activity except among a 'cultural underclass' that cannot afford more interesting pursuits, according to research published today.

The Henley Centre, a think-tank, reaches these conclusions in its survey Media Futures, supported by an opinion poll by Research International.

The poor watch television for 11 hours a week more than the rich, who spend more time away from home at the cinema or on holiday. Sixty per cent of a sample of 1,500 said they would rather be out and about than at home watching television.

Television programmes are waning in popularity, the survey shows, with 42 per cent characterising them as 'dull and predictable' and 41 per cent saying they had got worse in the past year. Only 16 per cent found radio programmes dull.

The researchers are pessimistic about the future. 'The seemingly negative image that attaches to the medium is unlikely to improve,' they say. They do not think that satellite television will grow as fast as others have predicted, forecasting no more than 4.5 million dishes by 2000, commanding only 12 per cent of viewing. They are more optimistic about the future of newspapers, despite their current circulation decline. To compete with television, though, the papers will have to concentrate more on entertainment and analysis. 'As a portable and disposable medium, newspapers will still have considerable advantages over electronic media.'

One of these advantages is less obtrusive advertising. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they found TV commercials irritating and most of these said they tried to avoid them. 'We would expect to see a growing resistance to the clutter effect,' the survey says.

It confirms that people's appetite for news is parochial. Asked to grade 13 stories according to their level of interest, 86 per cent of people said they would want to know about a nuclear power station being built within five miles of their home, but only 4 per cent about a general election in Japan.