Questions About PEG Channel Demand

Evidence of how many viewers actually watch PEG channels is scant, but the little that is available suggests that there is little demand for PEG channel expansion and perhaps little demand for even maintaining current service levels. Cable systems have conducted surveys that consistently show little demand for PEG channels, but proponents have criticized these surveys as being biased against PEG channels and their funding. A recent study by a Hope College marketing class showed that viewership of the Holland Township municipal government channel was limited, that less than half of the respondents watched the channel at all, and that those who did watch tuned in less than two hours weekly.[38] The migration of many subscribers to DBS services, which do not offer local PEG channels, provides some evidence that these channels are not sufficiently important to a substantial proportion of customers.

Much of the programming on PEG channels does not actually originate locally, and many public access channels carry either "bulletin board" announcements or programming from non-local sources for all but a few hours each week.[39] Some of the non-local programming found on public access channels is of questionable value, including a documentary shown on many cable systems asserting that the U.S. government destroyed the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001,[40] "The LaRouche Connection,"[41] the "Scientology Program,"[42] and various UFO cover-up conspiracies and other sorts of programming that most cable subscribers will never watch. These shows may have passionate viewers, but it is likely that there are very few of them.

At the same time, the customers targeted by cable systems have more access to information and programming today than they did in the 1980s, when PEG channels grew most rapidly. Today, far more channels are offered on cable systems, and consumers can also turn to e-mail, online and cell-phone sources for local information. Viewing programming on computers and portable handheld devices has also become popular.

Cable television viewers now have many more channels available to them on their cable system, and more than a quarter of cable subscribers have switched to satellite services or other new entrants into the cable market. Much of the programming and local information is now available on the Internet, through such Web sites as YouTube and through e-mail groups, so PEG channels to a large extent no longer provide information that cannot be found elsewhere. Thus, any justification for offering PEG channels to give more choice to viewers no longer applies.

In general, PEG channel programming appears to be limited to certain narrow niches, which are primarily government meetings, high school events such as sports, concerts and graduation ceremonies, and certain very specialized programming. It is not clear how the appeal of PEG channels would increase with expanded funding. It is very possible that increased funding would do little to increase the appeal of PEG channels if the only change is better productions of the current local programming and perhaps better quality programming from outside the community (which in any event may have outlets on current non-PEG channels).

PEG channels still offer unique local programming, but only a small portion of cable subscribers actually watch the programming on PEG channels. There is no real evidence that PEG channel viewing will significantly increase following a huge increase in funding. Moreover, technological constraints preclude the satellite services from offering the highly localized programming found on PEG channels, so requiring cable systems to fund a large expansion of PEG channels and programming will place cable systems at a disadvantage as they compete with the growing satellite services.