Percent Of TV Channels Viewed Drops To Single Digits, Nielsen Attributes Digital Choices

The hyper-fragmentation of consumer choice across all screens is reducing the share of choices they make to watch a TV channel. That’s among the top findings coming out of the latest edition of Nielsen’s “Total Audience Report.”


The report, which was released to clients Thursday, is the first to publish shares of channels received and viewed by the average American household in a while.

It shows the average number viewed has fallen to less than 10% of the channels they receive.

That’s down dramatically from the last time Nielsen published such data, which showed the average was still in the double digits.

Moreover, the number of channels available to the average TV household has exploded to 205.9, but they only “view” 19.8 of them on average. The last time Nielsen provided data to Media Daily News, was for 2014, when the average number viewed was 21.0. Nielsen did not disclose the number of households receivable, or the percentage of those channels viewed at that time.

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The reason for the decline: Despite increases in the number of choices the average TV household now has from television, it is choosing to spend increasingly more of their time choosing to view things that are not on television.

“Average television channels viewed has flattened or decreased slightly from prior years,” Nielsen explains in the report, noting: “This suggests a change in choice order as channels that were once viewed are being replaced by other sources.”

The report, including an introductory note from Nielsen SVP, Audience Insights Glenn Enoch, says the average number of channels available has actually started to decline “as multichannel penetration decreases and cord shaving increases,” but the report does not provide the actual trend numbers associated with that.

in additiion, the report documents how the number of viewing options available to the average U.S. household continues to explode from other platforms, including mobile, desktop, etc.

While the average number of TV channels viewed is 19.8, the average number of Internet sites visited monthly is now 55, while the average number of mobile phone apps used monthly is now 28.

4 comments about "Percent Of TV Channels Viewed Drops To Single Digits, Nielsen Attributes Digital Choices".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 23, 2016 at 12:34 p.m.

    The fact that an average adult tunes in 20 "limear TV " channels per month compared to 21 channels a few years ago, indicates to me that the much heralded demise of "linear TV" which some people keep harping on, may take quite a bit of time to deveolp ---if it ever does. Of course, if the number of channels keeps rising it's only natural for some of the newbies to be sampled while an old channel, which is only seen ocassionally anyway, is relegated to being watched every two months, not every month. The percentages of channels viewed is, not surprisingly, going to keep dropping as more and more channels pop up. But this, in and of itself, has little to do with the effectiveness of "linear TV" as an ad medium----unless there is significant attrition in reach. A decline of one channel viewed per month every two years is no cause for panic.

  2. Jay Waters from noodlebhm, September 23, 2016 at 3:39 p.m.

    Again, to me there is narrative about our industry that every data point is bent to support, however awkward that reshaping turns out to be.

    Using the logic embedded in the headline for this store, an equivalent story about politics would be to say that your indvidual vote is worth less today than it was worth in 1996, because population growth has made your vote a smaller percentage of the overall population than you represented in 1996.

    This is not a story about how viewers are abandoning television content - in fact, the data supports a reading that the amount of content being provided in the traditional television space is increasing. There are a variety of technologies that are collectively making it much easier to establish a television network, source content for it, distibute that content to viewers, and sell and service advertising on that network -- thus the number of available networks is growing.

    There is also a connection back to a body of research about consumer choice that shows, in general, that consumers usually only consume a fraction of the options provided to them, even with the number of options in a given category increase.

    Most importantly, in rush to celebrate another VICTORY FOR DIGITAL!, we miss who is truly imperiled by this data - the cable and dish companies.  It's not that consumers are abandoning video/television content -- it's that they are increasingly not seeing the value in paying for 200 channels when they only have time or interest in viewing 10% of those channels.  Put another way, as soon as consumers can purchase those 20 networks that they do view separately, they will do that.  If cable and dish companies fail to change their models to provide that, then consumers will go and view those 20 channels through some other means. 

    The narrative that is in the marketplace about the falling subscriber numbers is that consumers are rejecting television content -- but what they are rejecting is value proposition of the cable and dish providers.  Consumers prefer watching television content on television screens - but they don't like paying for literally hundreds of channels that they do not and will not view.   Thus, they are willing to accept a sub-par viewing experience in exchange for lower acquition cost.

    The data in the article, to me, is clear that if a cable/dish company offered consumers the opportunity to handpick 20 of their favorite channels and priced it accordingly -- say at $35/month -- hundreds of thousands of subcribers would return overnight.  The window, however, for this to happen is closing rapidly.

  3. Alan Westendal from West End Communications/Consul, September 24, 2016 at 6:30 p.m.

    How about this:
    Most of the stuff on most of the channels most of the time isn't worth watching.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, September 27, 2016 at 9:38 a.m.

    Here's an interesting finding from the same Nielsen report. According to Nielsen, the average adult with a SVOD subscription---Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc---watched 18.6 TV channels per month as opposed to approximately 21---by our calculation from Nielsen data----for those who didn't have SVOD. Of course, with more than just TV channels to choose from, the typical SVOD user watched a few less TV channels plus SVOD----but 18.6 TV channels seen per month by people who we are told have abandoned "linear TV" is an awful lot---isn't it?

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