How Much TV Do You Actually Watch?

After I wrote a column about cutting the cord, I got a fair amount of feedback that pretty much cemented my decision that we will be doing so fairly soon.  

One person brought up a simple question that pushed me over the edge: How many TV shows do you actually watch?

It’s a simple question.  You pay for the privilege of accessing thousands of television shows, but how many are on your viewing radar?

I watch about 10 shows over the course of the year -- four to five in the fall, a couple more in the spring and a scattering of others through the course of a year.  

Most of that gets watched on an airplane when I travel for work.   I rarely have time to sit down and watch shows at home, and when I do, I am exhausted and it’s 50/50 on whether I make it through the entire episode before I fall asleep.  

Television at home, for me, is the Moby Dick of my entertainment experience, lower priority to sitting down and listening to music, engaging with my family or getting stuff done.  



As a father, husband, employee and general go-getter, watching TV is a privilege I rarely take advantage of.  So why was cutting the cord such a difficult decision to make?

People have habits.  Over time your habits can change, but they are difficult to decide to change.  

When I was a kid, channel surfing was a way to watch TV.   This past weekend I found myself with a window of empty time, so I checked to see what was on.  I surfed and found nothing of value. This gave me an epiphany that I am paying to access hundreds of stations full of nothing.  

You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  In a random sampling of 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon, I found 14 stations of infomercials, 16 stations featuring movies that stopped every eight minutes for commercials, a bunch of cooking shows and travel shows that featured the same restaurants and the same destinations, a scattering of second-tier sports like fishing, lacrosse, and reruns of NBA and NFL games from the last 10 years.  Seriously -- who rewatches an NBA game from the first round of  playoffs five years ago?  

I watch 10 shows over 365 days.  That translates to about 130 episodes over 365 days.  My “watercooler” shows are mostly on HBO, Netflix and Amazon and not really on standard cable or network television anymore.  And any of those stations are also available on iTunes and able to be watched online.

Plus -- and I really do hate to say this -- the experience of watching shows online is far better because I have fewer commercial interruptions.  I love advertising, but it’s a better entertainment experience when there are fewer ads.

Therein lies the biggest single issue with cable TV.  It is a behemoth that requires more money to operate and turn a profit, so it squeezes the consumer experience with more and more ads, becoming something that is not enjoyable.  

Streaming services are more realistic. They manage to reduce the amount of paid programming and commercial interruptions, so it’s a better experience.   

If cable TV were more focused on the full experience including commercial interruptions, it might have a chance to succeed.  Why not offer a reduced channel load with a no-ads option at the current pricing?  Let me choose the stations I want and the programs I watch, have an experience with fewer ads and pay what I pay now.  

That might be a convenience worth paying for, versus having access to informercials and commercials with an intermittent show once in a while.  

Until then, get ready to cut the cord.

5 comments about "How Much TV Do You Actually Watch?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 24, 2019 at 1:15 p.m.

    Cory, the "average person" who watches about 4.5 hours of TV daily---or so we are told--- probably sees all or part of 6 or 7 different shows per day. A few of these are shows that are viewed on a regular basis---one might call them "favorites". These may include a favorite early newscast, a favorite Prime Access game show, one or two primetime dramas or sitcoms and smatterings of other programs--a reality show, a late night talk-variety, etc. As the days wear on we continue watching our "favorites" but sample many other programs---sometimes viewing an entire episode; often watching only five or ten minutes of the show, before moving on. Every once in a while, and especially when "new" seasons arrive with many new programs to investigate, we add a "favorite" or two to our must see list, but, often we drop an old favorite when it grows stale and overly repetitive. As a result, our menu is constantly changing and the total amount of TV that we consume stays more or less the same. Thanks to the ongoing sampling process we  have seen and are familiar with possibly  20-25% of the shows we might watch, however we actually tune in only a tiny proportion of these shows---like three out of a thousand----on a per-episode basis.

  2. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics replied, July 24, 2019 at 1:22 p.m.

    And this is nothing new.  It has been so for 50 years in every country you care to look at.   You only remember a few shows. Honestly, if people could accurately remember what and how much they watch, we wouldn’t need expensive behavioral measurement. We could have saved tons of money doing recall. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 24, 2019 at 3:35 p.m.

    I agree, Jack, however there is one difference which I alluded to. It's the familiarity factor. In olden times but less and less so with each passing decade, the average TV home resident was familiar with a far higher proportion of the available shows than is now the case. This was a function of  the limited amount of programming in the past and the very high per- episode tune in levels that prevailed. It was not unusual for half of the population in 1960 to have seen at least one episode of a new primetime drama or sitcom by May---eight months after its first telecast, while the corrseponding percentage for mega hits like "I Love Lucy" or "Gunsmoke" were much higher. Today, a new primetime series is lucky to have a 20-25% familiarity factor after one season. The same thing applies---with even lower percentages--for most daytime, fringe evening and weekend programs.

  4. Rob Frydlewicz from Carat, July 26, 2019 at 5:04 p.m.

    Cory, I think, too often, those in the industry talk about our own media habits as if they replicate those of the general population, and that's not the case.  There are a lot of older persons (growing faster than younger age groups) and households with below average incomes (that's, unfortunately, growing as well) and for them TV is relatively inexpensive entertainment.  Also, your choice of Saturday afternoon as an example to indicate how little of interest is on TV like shooting fish in a barrell as Saturday (especially when it's not football season) has always been more or less a throwaway daypart.  Your point, however, about commercial overload on cable, is spot on.  I'm not a big TV watcher either, but when I visit my mother we watch a lot of it and I'm astounded not only by the length of commercial pods, but the repeating of the same commercials.  (Kenneth, what's the frequency - very, very high!)            

  5. Patty Ardis from Ardis Media, LLC, July 31, 2019 at 10:57 a.m.

    Good points all but Cory does make an important distinction about cable television and commercial overload. The thing about cable is that it offers a flavor for everyone even if that is infomercials. Bottom line until we come up with another financial format, all our entertainment is funded by advertising dollars in the form of commercials. The more money, the better the programming offerings. One can only hope that we are nearing a solution, but we have been talking about this since cable arrived….too many channels and there is nothing on! We are a fickle lot because as soon as we get what we want, pay to view, then we will be unhappy with the limited choices. For now, the system such as it is, is what we have, but that doesn’t mean we can’t push for more exciting programming and less commercial interruptions.

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