Consumer Use of Videotex Services in France

Robert N. Mayer, University of Utah
ABSTRACT - The French telecommunications authority (DGT) is embarked on the world's most ambitious effort to make videotex a mass medium. The initial success of the French videotex system (Teletel) can be attributed to a number of factors: the free distribution of two million Minitel terminals, a pricing system which allows easy entry and exit for consumers, performance of the billing and collection functions by the DGT rather than by service providers themselves, free consumer access to a nationwide electronic telephone directory, a data transmission network whose costs to consumers are independent of the distance between users and service providers, and a flexible regulatory regime.
[ to cite ]:
Robert N. Mayer (1987) ,"Consumer Use of Videotex Services in France", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 574.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Page 574

CONSUMER USE OF VIDEOTEX SERVICES IN FRANCE

Robert N. Mayer, University of Utah

[The author is Associate Professor of Family and Consumer Studies at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112.]

ABSTRACT -

The French telecommunications authority (DGT) is embarked on the world's most ambitious effort to make videotex a mass medium. The initial success of the French videotex system (Teletel) can be attributed to a number of factors: the free distribution of two million Minitel terminals, a pricing system which allows easy entry and exit for consumers, performance of the billing and collection functions by the DGT rather than by service providers themselves, free consumer access to a nationwide electronic telephone directory, a data transmission network whose costs to consumers are independent of the distance between users and service providers, and a flexible regulatory regime.

As of the summer of 1986, over a thousand videotex services were available to the general public in France. These services are offered by both large institutions (e.g., newspapers, banks, railroads, retailers) and a dynamic sector of small businesses known as the "new telematics editors."

By far the most frequently consulted service is the nationwide electronic telephone directory. Over three-quarters of all Minitel holders report using the directory. in terms of the percentage of people who report using other types of services, the next most popular ones are banking (14%), transportation and tourism (13%), shopping (10%), newspapers (8%), and games (7%). However, these figures mask the fact that, in terms of the amount of time spent consulting videotex offerings, services which allow individuals to anonymously communicate with each other ("messageries') are second in importance to the electronic directory. This constitutes one of the surprises of the French video ex experience. The original advocates of the Teletel system envisioned it as primarily a medium of information retrieval and commercial transaction, not as a new medium of interpersonal communication.

The "average" Minitel holder claims to use his/her terminal one or two times a week. However, usage is highly concentrated. Six percent of all households account for a third of all videotex traffic generated by the general public.

Somewhat contrary to expectations, use by individual consumers tends to be confined to a single type of service. Slightly more than half of all Minitel users limit themselves to the electronic directory. Another quarter of Teletel users consult practical or utilitarian services (e.g., banking, shopping, obtaining travel and transportation information), but only a small percentage of these consumers regularly consult more than one type of these practical services. Users of the much-publicized "convivial" services (e.g., electronic dialogs, bulletin boards, forums) are relatively small in number although disproprotionately heavy in terms of their dollar expenditures, that is, time on the system. Finally, less than ten percent of all consumers report either regular or even intermittent use of both practical and convivial services.

An additional unanticipated aspect of consumer videotex use in France is the relative equality of the sexes in terms of their tendency to use their Minitels. In contrast to the experience of virtually every other videotex system in the world, men are only slightly more likely than woman to report that they use their terminal. (Of course, differences in the intensity of use may exist.) This finding may provide some indication that videotex may indeed become a mass medium in France.

In sum, videotex technology appears to be taking hold in France. While it is doubtful that the Minitel will ever rival the telephone or television set in terms of depth of diffusion, videotex is likely to be an important component of the French telecommunications and marketing scenes for the foreseeable future. Easy entry and exit from the market for both service providers and users, plus an array of direct and indirect government subsidies, provide both businesses and consumers with ample opportunity to see whether videotex can shake the label of being a technology in search of a market.

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