This study of audience responses to the entertainment-education radio soap opera Never Too Late is based on a large body of literature written about this particular communication strategy. Entertainment-education is the strategic use of dramatic programming to influence audience members to change in specific, targeted ways. Bandura (1977), as specified in his social learning theory, believed that individuals learn when they observe someone else performing a particular behavior. Within the context of this radio soap opera, it was revealed that listeners enter into the lives of the characters in the story and are influenced in a positive way.
The results from the survey and writers’ comments, as expressed in their letters and text messages found that one of the intermediate effects associated with audience involvement is an increase in interpersonal communication among audience members, which confirms earlier findings by Sood (2002) and Papa, et al. (2000). Four of the main characters in Never Too Late, Pakoom, Chaba, Man and Ampoon’s cognitive parasocial interaction scores rose when listeners had talked about the program with others. It seemed clear that education factored into the results as those respondents with less education talked more to others about the program and sent letters to Never Too Late as opposed to sending a text message. A letter writer was more likely to have talked about the program, as were co-workers who listened together.
The most significant finding was that the more people talked about the program, the more likely they were to report making changes in their lives, as captured in the concept of self-efficacy. Sood (2002) argued that audience involvement is associated with an increase in self-efficacy. According to Bandura (1986), self-efficacy is the most influential aspect of self-directed change. This finding is similar to Law and Singhal’s (1999) finding that self-efficacy can lead an audience member to examine his or her own values and consider changing. The findings of this study included that those who talked about Never Too Late were more likely to desire further contact with the writers/producers of Never Too Late, and those who listened with siblings were more likely to talk back to the fictional characters.
This interaction with characters and letter/text writing is an extension of audience involvement that is defined by Sood (2002) as the “degree to which audience members engage in reflection upon and parasocial interaction with certain media programs, thus resulting in overt behavior change” (p. 156). This definition of audience involvement is specific to radio, as Sood studied Tinka Tinka Sukh, an entertainment-education radio soap that aired in India 1996-1997. Sood specifically studied letter writers who responded to specific offers by the Tinka Tinka Sukh program producers. This is quite similar to the program strategy of Never Too Late, (i.e. sending out offers of various kinds, soliciting letters or text messages as a response). This seems to be common place in the entertainment-education literature, as few studies mention unsolicited letters from listeners.
It is uncertain what additional effects peer communication has had on the program listeners. The diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers, 2003) points out that mass communication channels are more important in the knowledge and information stage of communication and that interpersonal communication is more important at the persuasion stage. Cognitive results were higher over all, possibly showing the importance of the knowledge stage. Listeners who talked with others were more likely to make changes in their lives. These points might be theoretically applied to the diffusion of innovation theory but at the distance in which this research was handled, because there was no one on the ground with the listeners, it is impossible to prove these points.
Rubin and Perse (1987) viewed affective parasocial interaction as if the viewers emotionally felt like the media personalities were their friends and that they had an emotional connection with them. In this study, it was found that affective parasocial interaction increased with the approval rating of the characters of the program. Thus, those who were more positive towards the characters had a higher affective parasocial interaction score and, interestingly, those who liked the theme song also had a higher affective parasocial interaction score.
Behavior change is perhaps the most interesting form of audience response. What causes a listener to make changes to his or her lifestyle? Certainly, Sood (2002) believed that those who interacted with others were more likely to make changes. The findings of this study support this perspective. Nowhere in the entertainment-education literature, however, are references to behavioral change and stages of life. Five percent of the Never Too Late respondents were widowed; this specific demographic and psychographic population was more likely to make changes in their behavior. Also, letter writers were more likely to talk about the program than were text message writers. Text message writers were mostly in the higher educated levels, which were less likely to talk about the program.
In addition, the entertainment-education strategy, as outlined by Sabido (2004) creates characters who model positive change and opposing characters who model negative change. In Never Too Late, these characters would be Chaba, a middle aged female who was once a gambler, but because of the sacrificial behavior of her husband, Annop, changed her behavior and became a person who helps others. A female character modeling negative behavior would be Ampoon, who left her husband to live with another man and was infected with AIDS. Ampoon is befriended by Chaba and even lives in her house. Sabido’s entertainment-education strategy would have attempted to use her behavior as a negative influence. However, in Never Too Late, the listeners who made changes in their lives were more likely to think about Ampoon. This is possibly because in Never Too Late Ampoon is being reconciled with her family.
Christian organizations wishing to affect religious beliefs in Thailand should create additional programs. Entertainment-education has been used successfully to affect change in areas of health, family planning and quality of life particularly in the third world countries (Singhal, et al., 2004). However, as Singhal and Rogers (2004) pointed out, these types of interventions always face a certain amount of resistance. This would be particularly true of programming designed to affect religious beliefs. The results of this study do not reveal specific changes in attitude towards Christianity among audience members, which is not surprising. Such change is often gradual and incremental, as is illustrated by the Gray Matrix (Gray Matrix and Radio, 2006).
There were a number of limitations in this study. As mentioned earlier, most of the entertainment-education strategies include soliciting letters by offering an incentive of some kind. In Never Too Late, the producers offered a T-shirt and a mobile phone card as premiums to fill in and return the survey. This meant that the respondents were self-selected based on a perceived benefit to answering the survey.
Never Too Late was aired on the popular network known as Gatethip which has been producing dramatic radio programs for the past 20 years in a line up of several radio soap operas. It is unknown how much this fact influenced the responses, since some were long-term Gatethip fans. However, the response rate of over 52 percent may have mitigated this effect.
Recommendations for Further Study
One of the goals in this study was to determine if religious messages could be integrated into a dramatic soap opera like Never Too Late. Messages were imbedded in the program but identification of themes by the listeners was not evaluated during the course of this study. A strong recommendation for further study would be an inquiry into the types of religious message themes which could be communicated in a secular radio context.
As of 2005, there were 27 million mobile phones (infoplease, 2005) in Thailand – almost one for every two people. To the best of the author’s knowledge, this is the first entertainment-education study analyzing text messages along with letters. As Thailand experiences more mobile phone penetration and networks become more robust with modern technology, it is recommended that additional study into the use of text messaging as a listener feedback mechanism be conducted.
This study has shown the effectiveness of the entertainment-education strategy. It purposely engages the audience, causes them to think about issues brought up on the program and then to choose to make changes in their personal lives. Entertainment-education is an effective tool to involve an audience in personal change.
(from Audience Parasocial Involvement with the Thai Radio Drama
Never Too Late, a MA thesis by Christine Henrich) Also see the Wiki site for Never Too Late.