Television's Job-to-be-Done

image source: Konninklijk Philips Electronics N.V.


Clayton Christensen [1] proposes businesses are best understood by looking at the way they help people address their jobs-to-be-done. One of the topics at Asymconf 2012 was the job-to-be-done of the entertainment industry. This post reviews “Uses and Gratifications” research into the specific case of why people use television. I’ll discuss other streams of research in future posts.


New technology doesn’t necessarily change television’s job-to-be-done. Television has always been social. Viewing was most often a family activity until recently, and watching with friends is still very normal. Traditional television is already interactive: Viewers can change channels (and also respond to programs in non-technical ways, such as by singing along). Since its introduction, the medium of TV has evolved into a multi-channel platform allowing viewers to switch between themed channels – some of which replay programs several times in a day – to view what they want when they want it, within the limits of the broadcast schedule. The type of interaction associated with more recent IP-based TV delivery technologies is in many cases an extension or expansion of interactions that are already present with traditional television.

Uses and Gratifications studies

Mass Communication theories of media ‘uses and gratifications’ aim to explain why do people use media, and what do they use them for? [2-4]. I’ll refer to uses and gratifications as “jobs to be done”. They are answers to the question “what do we hire television to do”?

The image below provides an overview of jobs-to-be-done identified in seven frequently cited uses and gratifications studies. The gratifications are clustered in 4 categories (explained below), identified by McQuail, Blumler, et. al.’s [5] typology of human-person interactions: diversion, personal relationships, personal identity, and surveillance [discussed in 2].

What we hire television to do


Surveillance jobs reflect use of media by individuals to learn about the world around them, and keep current with events that might affect them. It includes audience uses for Information, Guidance and Advice, and Learning and Education. Television Weather or Stock Market reports do these jobs, as do News, Educational, and Documentary programs generally. The job of Surveillance is described as viewers “finding out about events around them and the world in general so as to be aware of their surrounding environment, seeking advice for decision making as well out of curiosity or general interest, and finally learning in order to educate themselves, or to feel secure by acquiring knowledge” [2].

Personal identity

Personal Identity jobs reflect use of media by individuals to situate and orient themselves in relation to the broader culture. These include audience uses of media for Identity Formation and Confirmation, Value Reinforcement, Lifestyle Expression, Social Learning, Security, and Cultural Satisfaction. An example is when a viewer changes their hairstyle because they admired the hairstyle of character in a TV program; or changes their opinion to align with that of a person they admired or identified with on TV. Personal Identity is summarized as, “reinforcement of personal values, i.e. justification of behaviour” [2].  Television can shape an individual’s presentation of themself and their perceptions of cultural values and norms, and they may use TV characters and personalities as positive or negative role models.


The main job to be done of television is Diversion, which encompasses Entertainment, Escape, Relaxation, Emotional Release, Arousal, Sexual Arousal, Passing Time, and Habit. The category includes, for example, the relief from boredom and constraints of daily routines derived from chat shows, music, comedy, and other forms of light entertainment, as well as the excitement and arousal generated by action and adventure programs, quizzes, sports and competitive games, and even the ‘horse-race’ appeal of following an election campaign [3, 6].

There are a number of jobs-to-be-done that seem not entirely to fit within the classification of Diversion. Regulative refers to uses of television to punctuate time, or to establish a schedule; for example, to establish mealtime, bedtime, homework periods, etc. Environmental refers to using the television to establish an ambience of sociality, including, for example, to provide background sound, or to make the house seem less empty [7]. Habit and Routine refer to watching television out of habit, rather than to fulfil a need for habits or routines [8-10]. Although these uses (Regulative, Environmental, Habit and Routine) are related to Passing Time and Filling Time, which are more clearly related to Diversion, they are placed as outliers in relation to the cluster because they indicate another dimension of audience relationship to media – orientation to media and activity – which I will discuss in a later post.

Personal relationships

Personal Relationship jobs-to-be-done include audience uses of media for Affiliation or Avoidance, Companionship, Social Interaction, Communication Facilitation, Competence/Dominance, and Social Utility. This includes using television to gain a “sense of belonging”.
“This ‘sense of belonging’ can be broken into two categories: Firstly, viewers are able to place themselves in a specific social and economical context, either by comparison with different groups or by identification with their own. Secondly, viewers are able to discuss with other viewers what they watched on television, and thus be able to place themselves in a community of viewers and to interact socially with others.” [2].
Lee and Lee refer to the pleasure in talking about a shared television experience with others as “social grease” [10]. There is also a body of literature [e.g., 11, 12] showing audience members can develop a parasocial relationship with media characters when she or he is, or feels, addressed by a media character or persona.


This post summarizes Uses and Gratifications research investigating why people watch television. The jobs-to-be-done of television are summarised in the table below:

Overview of Television's Jobs-to-be-Done from Uses and Gratifications research

 Type of Television Use Jobs-to-be-done
Diversion entertainment, relaxation, and relief of boredom.
Surveillance learn about the world, and keep current with events that might affect the viewer.
Identity Situate and express the individual within the broader culture.
Relationships Affiliation with or avoidance of other individuals, (parasocial) companionship, communication facilitation.


1.         Christensen, C.M. and M.E. Raynor, The innovator's solution : creating and sustaining successful growth. 2003, Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. x, 304 p.

2.         Livaditi, J., et al. Needs and Gratifications for Interactive TV Applications: Implications for Designers. 2003.

3.         McQuail, D., McQuail's mass communication theory. 5th ed. 2005, London: SAGE Publications. viii, 616 p.

4.         Katz, E., J.G. Blumler, and M. Gurevitch, Utilization of Mass Communication by the Individual, in The Uses of mass communications : current perspectives on gratifications research, J.G. Blumler and E. Katz, Editors. 1974, Sage Publications: Beverly Hills. p. 318 p.

5.         McQuail, D., J.G. Blumler, and J.R. Brown, The Television Audience: A Revised Perspective, in Sociology of Mass Communications, D. McQuail, Editor. 1972, Penguin Books: Harmondsworth.

6.         Blumler, J.G., The Role of Theory in Uses and Gratifications Studies. Communication Research, 1979. 6(1): p. 9-36.

7.         Lull, J., The Social Uses of Television. Human Communication Research, 1980. 6(3): p. 197-209.

8.         Rubin, A.M., Television Uses and Gratifications: The Interactions of Viewing Patterns and Motivations. Journal of Broadcasting, 1983. 27(1): p. 37.

9.         Greenberg, B.S., British Children and Televised Violence. The Public Opinion Quarterly, 1974. 38(4): p. 531-547.

10.       Lee, B. and R.S. Lee, How and why people watch TV: implications for the future of interactive television. Journal of Advertising Research, 1995(6): p. 9.

11.       Rubin, A.M., E.M. Perse, and R.A. Powell, Loneliness, Parasocial Interaction, and Local Television News Viewing. Human Communication Research, 1985. 12(2): p. 155-180.

12.       Giles, D.C., Parasocial Interaction: A Review of the Literature and a Model for Future Research. Media Psychology, 2002. 4(3): p. 279-305.

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.


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