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October 30, 2014
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Argentines still keen media consumers

By Lorenzo Miquel
Herald Staff

Radio, TV top the charts in recent survey, while people hardly buy or read books

Throughout the first semester of 2013, Argentina’s Cultural Information System (SInCA, in Spanish) carried out a thorough national survey to measure the nation’s cultural consumption. Almost in unison with the creation of the Culture Ministry, last Thursday marked the official presentation of the survey at the Book Fair. A colossal trove of information to understand the detailed radiography of Argentina’s cultural identity. Surely enough, information that will determine the intertwining of culture and politics in the not-so-distant future.

Renowned journalist and historian Carlos Ulanovsky made some praises and a good number of critiques in his speech at the Book Fair presentation. When discussing the portion of the survey dedicated to the radio, Ulanovsky said that “there’s a radio circulation that I consider to be “clandestine” and that the survey doesn’t seem to take it into consideration. For instance, radio broadcasts in public transport and in private/rental cars. I think that should be added at some point. Also, it would be good to know if the reason why AM radio is surpassed by FM radio — something that distresses me deeply — has anything to do with the fact that new digital devices only offer the option to listen to FM radios.” Regarding TV, Ulanovsky added that “there’s also an underground side to it; there are multiple bars, waiting rooms, train and subway stations with thousands of TV screens tuned to a particular channel, generally playing on mute. I think that’s another aspect the survey should incorporate.” Ulanovsky also said that “It’s vox populi among survey interviewers that, in numerous topics, respondents tend to pick the ‘politically correct’ answer.”

Later on, Ulanovsky mentioned being absolutely taken aback by the vastness of the “cultural options” in the country, but he was also impressed by the fact that 87 percent of the Argentines never went to the opera. In fact, that’s the highest number on the “never concurred to” column of the survey, closely followed by “classical music concerts,” with 82 percent. It is also noticeable that 70 percent of people never went to a photo exhibition; but what’s really peculiar is the item at the bottom of the list: the circus. Only 16 percent never went to the circus, yet from the 84 percent that did, nearly half of them did so more than ten years ago.

Overpriced technology. Digital devices such as tablets are in the bottom of several charts. Only two percent of the population uses them for Internet connection. Regarding book-reading, only a scarce one percent uses tablets or e-book reading devices for that purpose. Inevitably, the question arises, why is there so little tablet penetration in today’s Argentine society? Longtime TV producer and sociologist Bernarda Llorente said that “technology is so expensive in Argentina. Mobile phones are much more expensive than anywhere else in the world. (Same happens with) computers, tablets and even the Internet.”

According to the survey, Internet access is the main cultural expense, with a whooping average annual cost of 1,236 pesos, twice as much as the second item in the list — PC and tablet buying, with 552 pesos.

Though the survey reveals that 85 percent of the population reads, it is important to differentiate the numbers pertaining to books: 45 percent of the population doesn’t read books, a proportion that helps explain the highest percentage in the annual book expense per person: 57 percent of the population doesn’t invest in books at all. This could be compensated by reading e-books on the computer — considering 71 percent of the population has access to a PC at home, and by “PC” the survey means desktop computers, laptops and netbooks, whether they were acquired independently or provided by the national government through the Conectar Igualdad plan. This reality is yet to be conquered, as a minimum percentage of the population uses computers for this endeavour. Even less when considering the survey’s sample only took into account cities with over 30 thousand inhabitants.

At the beginning of the Book Fair presentation, the survey’s coordinator Natalia Calcagno addressed the mistaken notion most people have when considering that the music and the movies they download are “free of charge.”

“One has to pay a monthly Internet subscription to access that ‘seemingly free’ cultural content. We also know that 80 percent of Argentines pay a monthly cable subscription. So, if we add the monthly payment of Internet to the monthly payment of cable TV to (several other payments)… we see it is a significant expense.” True as it is, after reading the synthesis of the survey, there’s a little mishap that becomes apparent: monthly payment of cable TV was not included in the survey. An unfortunate omission, considering that 68 percent of the population pays subscriptions and that it would have drastically changed the index for average annual expenditure over the total population.

@lorenzomiquel

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