Recession's Upside: Better Ratings From Unhappier Viewers

TV executives should love unhappy TV viewers. In a weakening economy, with advertising dollars slipping away, more TV viewers with sad faces could be the silver lining.

"Through good and bad economic times, our diary studies have consistently found that work is the major activity correlate of higher TV viewing hours," says John Robinson, the co-author of a University of Maryland study on time use. "As people have progressively more time on their hands, viewing hours increase."

Why the increase in TV viewing? The answer is simple: unhappiness. The study says the happier TV viewers are, the more time they spend reading newspaper and books and socializing. Oh, yeah -- they also have more sex. (I'm hearing the snap of TV electrical plugs being pulled out of sockets right now).

All this is good news for newspaper ad sales executives -- as well as any other non-TV medium, including radio, outdoor, etc. Maybe they can go after those happier consumers.



The study didn't seem to go into TV viewers' mood when it came to commercials. Who wants to advertise in a medium where most of your targeted consumers are unhappy? That means you probably have unhappy people buying products -- grudgingly. That doesn't seem to develop any long-term brand loyalty.

Then again, maybe they are happier when the commercials come on. The study didn't survey the third of U.S. TV homes than can fast-forward through commercials.

More important, what do unhappy TV viewers think about unhappy TV characters?  Maybe during the next 10 months of what will no doubt be an honest-to-goodness recession, the networks should do their part with more malcontents. Surely Fox, for example, can work out a grousier Dr. Gregory House.

Perhaps the best part of the study comes from what viewers think about TV in general. According to Robinson: "What viewers seem to be saying is that while TV in general is a waste of time and not particularly enjoyable, 'the shows I saw tonight were pretty good.'"

Now back to your regularly scheduled sulking.

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