Forget Cord-Cutting -- Nielsen Data Reveals Americans Are Cutting TV Channels, Too


The share of TV channels the average American household actually tunes to continues to fall, dropping to 6.6% in 2018, according to a Research Intelligencer analysis of data from Nielsen's Total Audience Report.

That's less than half the share of channels tuned to ten years ago, and reflects the ongoing fragmentation of linear TV, as well as a "paradox of choice" as the number of alternative viewing options grows via non-linear options such as OTT and subscription video-on-demand services.

The data also helps explain why cord-cutting has gotten, as one analyst put it, "freakin' ugly," because it reveals how dispensable most linear TV channels have grown.

Of the 191.8 channels available to the average TV household in 2018, only 12.7 -- or 6.6% -- were actually tuned.

That's down an average of nearly five channels from 2008, when the average TV household tuned to 17.3 -- or 13.7% -- of the 129.3 channels that they received.

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13 comments about "Forget Cord-Cutting -- Nielsen Data Reveals Americans Are Cutting TV Channels, Too".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 30, 2019 at 9:57 a.m.

    Joe, I assume that these are weekly channel tuning estimates but the 2018 figures seem very low. Is it possible that they are based on adults, not homes? Or possibly a different definition of tune in was used--like the minimum amount of time to be counted. What's strange about the supposed reduction in channel usage is the belief held by many---including myself-- that heavy viewers are the least likely to cut the cord and heavy viewers watch more, not fewer, channels, than the norm.

  2. Matt Filippi from WICU12, July 30, 2019 at 10:07 a.m.

    this article makes absolutely no sense.

    Sure there are a ton more junk channels out there.  and if they are cord cutting then they have less to choose from so they are going to be more refined on their choices of what they watch.

  3. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, July 30, 2019 at 10:37 a.m.

    @EdPapazian: This is based on a long-standing method used by Nielsen -- originally published in its Report on Television (now Total Audience Report).


    The channels receivable data is just the average number of channels received by the average U.S. TV houshold. It is household data.


    The channels tuned data is a household composite of all viewers in those households, based on the month of August each year.


    Nielsen has previously published its criteria as: “10+ contiguous minutes Live+7 Viewing, Mon-Sun 6a-6a • Number of viewed channel counts are based on available channel codes • Non-HUT channels are not included • Any bucketed channels (5991, 6512, etc.) are only counted once. Ex. If household tunes more than one channel bucketed to channel 5991 – it will only count once for that household • East/West channels (channel codes) are counted individually • Plexes – for premium pay cable channels the plex channel codes are counted individually • Extended homes are not included”


  4. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, July 30, 2019 at 10:40 a.m.

    @Matt Filippi: Sorry it's confusing. The data only represents U.S. TV households, not the households that have cut the cord. The point is that given the increasing abundance of choice, American TV viewers continue to watch a smaller perecentage of the TV channels that are available to them.

  5. Frank Anthony from Self, July 30, 2019 at 3:28 p.m.

    Nothing to see here folks.  Just move on.  Expect tun in channels to dwindle even more as Gen X and Boomers die off.  Soon it will be just sports and HBO/Netflix.  

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 30, 2019 at 3:56 p.m.

    Why does everyone assume that this finding is correct or of vast significance? Maybe yes; maybe not so much. Were I at a major ad agency or TV network and a big client of Nielsen I would ask them to verify the tabulation with a second run. If it gave the same answer I would then ask for an analysis of the kinds of channels that were tuned in per home now as opposed to, say 2017 or 2016 when we were told that the average TV home "watched" 17 channels per week. This would be broken down by broadcast versus cable channels. Next I would want to look at longer periods---like a month, not just a week. Is it simply taking a typical home longer now to get around to sampling its less favorite channels? I would also ask for channel viewing among household rsidents by sex and, especially age. Is everybody watching many fewer channels now than a few years ago---or just younger people? And what about heavy versus light viewers? It's only by analyzing the data in detail that we can draw meaningful conclusions.

  7. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, July 30, 2019 at 4:06 p.m.

    @Ed Papazian:

    Why? 1: Because Nielsen has been trending it for decades and its a meaningful benchmark; 2: No one said it's of vast signficance, but if I was operating one of the 191.8 channels competing for viewers love -- and advertisers' pocketbooks -- I'd find it significant.

    Were I at a major ad agency, I would try to figure out how to buy the channels the people I'm trying to reach are tuning to.

  8. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 31, 2019 at 12:42 a.m.

    Joe, my comment about finding out exactly what's going on was not directed at you but at some of the other remarks about the significance of this finding. For example, a few years ago Nielsen  told us that the average TV home could receive 206 channels and ---as I recall---and we watched either 17 or 20 channels---around there. OK, so now there are 12-13 fewer channels per home and we are watching 5-6 fewer channels. Wow! Those defectors sure watched a lot of channels---like about 40% of those that were dropped. It's seeming contradictions like this that raise questions in my mind and would cause me to want more information ---before I became overly concerned about finding new ways to reach people with TV.

  9. Joe Mandese from MediaPost, July 31, 2019 at 9:01 a.m.

    @Ed Papazian: Agree. When it comes to anything Nielsen, he devil is in the details -- or, as insiders like to say, the "edit rules." If people got to see how they make the sausage...

  10. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics replied, July 31, 2019 at 1:51 p.m.

    Devil always in the details. I believe TV households include those with working TV that can receive a traditional channel in some way including those using broadband so that might be the difference. In any case, the point, to me, is that the long tail was never all that long to begin with and now it’s a bit less long. 

  11. M Cohen from marshall cohen associates, July 31, 2019 at 3:40 p.m.

    One could assume that the average person watches their few favorite "channels" -- and then flips over to Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. When it comes to those destinations -- how do we feel about Nielsen's accuracy? 

  12. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 31, 2019 at 4:03 p.m.

    Marshall, it's important to remember that most TV viewing does not take place in primetime---even though the number of people watching TV during a particular minute in prime is much higher than in other time periods---it's only three hours out of a 24 hour day. I would guess that Netflix accounts for 6-7% of all TV viewing and a larger percentage in prime while Hulu is moving up fast and Amazon lags well behind. As a result, the average TV viewer, across all day parts, probably does not watch a few favorite "linear TV" shows, then switch to Netflix Hulu, etc. Some do exactly this while others skip broadcast entirely on a given evening and go SVOD. But, as yet, this is not what most do as a matter of daily routine---especially not that 20% of the population that does 50-55% of all viewing.

    As for Nielsen's accurracy, it's a panel operation which is always problematical, however, I would say that the findings---if not taken too literally or pushed beyond what one can reasonably expect to get ---do give us the best description of whose programs are winning more viewers and which ones aren't----plus what types of viewers favor one show over another. What we have done is demand too much---like commercial minute "viewing". This  is not measurable without some sort of observational system to see if anyone is in the room or whether their eyes are on the screen---as TVision is trying to demobstrate-=--if anyone will listen.

  13. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 31, 2019 at 4:35 p.m.

    Interesting word "demobstrate"---of course I meant demonstrate. Sigh!

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