Channel surfing

Channel surfing

Channel surfing (also known as channel hopping or zapping) is the practice of quickly scanning through different television channels or radio frequencies in order to find something interesting to watch or listen to. Modern viewers, who may have cable or satellite services beaming down dozens if not hundreds of channels, are frequently caught channel surfing. It is common for people to scan channels when commercial broadcasters switch from a show over to running advertisements.

The term is most commonly associated with television, where the practice became common with the wide availability of the remote control. The first published use of the term is November 1986, in an article by the Wall Street Journal [1].

The term has some connotations relating to laziness, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity. The behavior itself may also suggest Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Channel surfing has been parodied on TV shows and in film, such as in the movie Toy Story 2, and several times on The Simpsons. Channel surfing is also used as an effect to move between sketches in some sketch comedies, such as History Bites and Robot Chicken.

Viewers' propensity to channel surf was apparently a factor leading toward the current ATSC standard for terrestrial television, digital television in North America. An ATSC signal can be locked onto and start being decoded within about one second, while it can take several seconds to begin decoding a Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) signal.



Zappers are, according to media scholar Henry Jenkins, people who have a casual relationship with their televisions. Zappers do not remain on one channel for long, but continually skip from show to show, stopping for only a few minutes at a time on a particular channel (Jenkins 2006:74).


Referred to in Henry Jenkins' book, Convergence Culture, published in 2006, describes individuals who "constantly flit across the dial—watching snippets of shows rather than sitting down for a prolonged engagement" (Jenkins 2006:75). More of a tendency than a defining characteristic, zappers can fluctuate from the habit, depending on what is on at any given time, personal feelings toward a show, amongst other variables. The concept was overstated in the 1990s when Phillip Swann "wrote in How Television is Shaping Our Future: ‘Few viewers today can sit through an entire program without picking up the remote and checking out another channel . . . Today’s viewer needs constant gratification: If she’s not entertained or intrigued for any stretch of time, she will flip the dial'" (Jenkins 2006:75).

Media implications

After Initiative Media published its magazine The Initiative declaring that loyal fans are more valuable than zappers, television networks attempted to combat the zapper by increasing the personal appeal of their television shows, converting a zapper into a loyal fan (Jenkins 2006:75). This has led to a movement to slow down the zapper. Reality television has been suggested to be this bridge from zapper to loyal fan, being "built up of 'attractions,' short, highly emotionally charged units that can be watched in or out of sequence" (Jenkins 2006:77). American Idol is one such show, as it is "designed to pull in every possible viewer and to give each a reason not to change the channel" (Jenkins 2006:77). This technique has been perfected in American Idol via the cliffhanger commercial breaks and ending, convincing viewers to "stay tuned following these messages" or watch the show the next time it airs (Jenkins 2006:77).

See also


  • Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture, New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-4281-5
  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • channel surfing — channel ,surfing or channel ,hopping noun uncount a way of watching television in which you keep changing quickly from one channel to another using a REMOTE CONTROL ╾ channel ,surf verb intransitive …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • channel surfing — channel .surfing channel .hopping n [U] when you change from one television channel to another, only watching a few minutes of any programme …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • channel surfing — UK / US noun [uncountable] channel hopping Derived word: channel surf UK / US verb intransitive Word forms channel surf : present tense I/you/we/they channel surf he/she/it channel surfs present participle channel surfing past tense channel… …   English dictionary

  • channel-surfing — N UNCOUNT Channel surfing is the same as channel hopping. [mainly AM] …   English dictionary

  • channel surfing — noun : the activity or practice of surfing through television programs usually by use of a remote control to find something of interest • channel surf intransitive verb • channel surf noun • channel surfer noun …   Useful english dictionary

  • channel surfing — noun Date: 1988 the action or practice of surfing through television programs usually by use of a remote control • channel surf intransitive verb • channel surfer noun …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • channel-surfing — channˈel surfing noun • • • Main Entry: ↑channel …   Useful english dictionary

  • channel surfing — n. (Slang) channel hopping, act of changing television channels quickly and repeatedly using a remote control looking for something interesting to watch …   English contemporary dictionary

  • channel surfing — Noun. Switching from one television channel to another in search of an interesting programme. Orig. U.S …   English slang and colloquialisms

  • channel surfing — Go to channel hopping …   Dictionary of American slang and colloquial expressions