Least objectionable program
The theory of the least objectionable program (LOP) is a mediological theory explaining television audience behavior. It was developed in 1960s by then executive of audience measurement at NBC, Paul L. Klein, who was greatly influenced by the media theorist Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media.
"Why You Watch What You Watch When You Watch"
In an article "Why You Watch What You Watch When You Watch" (published in TV Guide in 1971), Klein explained that viewers consume the medium of television rather than television shows, treating the medium as the end of their consumption itself rather than using the set as a means to access specific programs they like the way they might choose a book from a shelf to access the story within. Since the introduction of television, the same percentage of sets are in use on, say, a Thursday evening at a certain hour, year after year, regardless of what content is broadcast. This is because unlike the way people use books, museums, or the cinema as means of consuming desired content, audiences consume television, the medium, as the desired object. TV viewers turn the set on, deciding to "watch television", and then seek out something to watch from what is available, flipping around, not until they find "something they like" - because television programming is in fact very rarely satisfying, and viewers rarely watch anything they actually like - but until they find something that doesn't offend them enough to make them flip to the next channel. (Viewers almost never turn off the set as a result of finding nothing tolerable and judging every program available boring or otherwise objectionable. Viewers commonly watch programs they describe later as unbearable, everything else on being even more intolerable. A more common response to a whole spectrum of equally unendurable choices than choosing to abandon the medium is to continue to flip frequently until new choices become available.) Thus, for programmers of television channels, Klein recommended understanding that audience attraction was a matter not of pleasing the greatest number of viewers but of offending the fewest (driving the fewest away to the competitors who may repulse them less). The television audience is in a kind of partial trance. A network will do better worrying less about not giving an audience enough to like, to be surprised and delighted by, and to engage their attention, than about avoiding, as Klein said, "disturbing their reverie" with something that causes them to change the channel. Thus, even as channel choices proliferate alongside numerous easily accessed out-of-schedule viewing options, successful television programs remain, as they have always been, formulaic, cliché, "instantly familiar," predictable, and monotonous in tone.
Obsolescence of the theory
It has been widely suggested, by such slogans as "appointment television", that the proliferation of channel choices since the introduction of new platforms beginning in the 1980s (cable, satellite, and now digital terrestrial and IPTV) means the offering is so diverse and the means of access so flexible that the LOP theory no longer applies. Certainly the rules of thumb the theory once offered to programmers of a three, four or five major channel dial have become obsolete. However, the undisturbed regularity of television consumption in markets with advanced technologies, and the audience slice garnered by such choices as the electronic program guide (EPG) itself on multichannel platforms, suggests that the core theory explains the behaviour of today's advanced-market audience offered scores of channel choices just as it did audiences of the past.
- Paul Klein obituary, The New York Times
- Klein, P. (July 24, 1971). Why you watch what you watch when you watch. TV Guide, 6-9.
- Lorrie Faith Cranor, Shane M. Greenstein: Communications policy and information technology: promises, problems, prospects.