Television is constantly present, but we might not think about it too often. Rather, while we might think about the shows, channels, and programs, we might not think about our relationship with them, or how much TV we watch each day. It’s become a routine for many. We could spend hours each day watching it and barely remember it, looking back to only a blur of shows we hardly recall.
Yet by thinking about how much we watch TV, we can be more aware of our own habits, and it is interesting to think about what the people around us do on average. And while averages on such a large scale do not tell us much about individuals, they can show us what societal impact television has on us and what might be in store down the line. And better for you, it can help you focus on why you watch TV and what you enjoy most about it. By thinking more carefully about it, you can actively watch what you love as opposed to just turning it on and hoping for the best.
While we can’t dive deep into every morsel of data on the subject (and there are a lot of morsels), here is what you need to know about how much TV we watch:
Estimates suggest that in 2022 the average person will watch 3.02 hours of television each day. One article notes that the average household watches about 8 hours and 55 minutes of television each day. This is a huge amount of time and a huge jump from the past. Compare this to the information we had about this from 1950, where the household (not person) was on average watching about four and a half hours of TV each day. There might not have been as much programming, but there were also fewer other distractions to compete as well.
Just from these key statistics, we can determine a few things, but overall, there are a few key takeaways already. People spend a ton of time watching television, growth has been massive, and people may often be watching TV while doing other things (otherwise the numbers wouldn’t make sense). We’ll discuss these and other key points later, but here’s your answer to the key question.
We are also using averages here. Just as the year will have natural peaks and valleys, so will TV watching habits. Children are probably going to watch more TV when they are home for winter vacation than when they can be outdoors in Spring or are in school. People are probably watching more TV on the day of the Super Bowl than on an average day when there is nothing special on or they have to work. There is a reason some timeslots are better than others. People often watch TV on a schedule, and some TV seasons are much more popular than others. A hit show can be a huge event, and a slow season can in turn make people think about picking up a book.
The pandemic has likely changed our viewing habits as well. We will have to wonder whether the data is really useful in terms of long-term predictions. We will tackle the subject more later in the article, but we did especially want to note that while the data up until mid-2020 is usable, everything afterward might be an anomaly. It is useful and interesting, but it's hard to use it for predictions.
Let’s put our average viewing habits into a different perspective. How much of our lives are spent watching television? After all, there are only 24 hours in every day, so it can be easy to predict using averages. One study found that the average person will spend a little over 70,000 hours watching television, everything included. That is a lot of TV. How much of that time do you think is consumed by ads?
Yet at the same time, this same source told us just how central television is to people’s lives. Many people would feel lost without it, and many households have regular arguments about what to watch, or would if they didn’t have two or more screens. It is the default way most people spend their time when they aren’t being productive. It’s culturally accepted, common, and the source of much conversation. Television, having not existed a century ago, has seemingly taken over our lives.
Other studies may come up with slightly different amounts, depending on their exact end impressions and data-gathering methods. Yet the end result is the same: we will watch thousands of movies and thousands upon thousands of episodes of shows throughout our watching life. That’s a lot, and it begs the question, of not necessarily whether we are spending our time wisely, but whether we are watching the shows and movies that would give us the most enjoyment. Even with all that time, we will not watch everything that comes to air. Not even close. That limited perspective can give us a push to be more selective with our watching, as tough as it might be at times.
Looking into the data we have, something we’ve noticed heavily is that traditional TV consumption is heavily divided by age. Older viewers will generally watch a lot more TV each day, while younger people will be focused on other matters or at least other content. Take a look at the averages for each age group:
This could come down to a few factors, and is likely a combination of the following:
Something else we wanted to look at was how viewing habits changed over the years. We don’t have complete data on viewing habits as it wasn’t always tracked so consistently, but we can tell a few things:
We should also consider that more people have access to television than ever before, even very nice TVs are affordable for most families now, and that there is more content than ever. Even the most niche interests have a set of shows designed just for them. What’s something you’re interested in that not too many other people are? There’s a show about it, though you might need to scroll through some channels and timeslots to find it. And there’s an endless parade of new TV content, so whatever isn’t around yet will be soon.
Something that has changed drastically over the last decade or so is the shift to on-demand programming and content. Sure it may be the same programming for the most part, but we can watch it on our phones, tablets, various other screens, and online with a proper subscription. Cable companies and beyond are competing for our attention, and it’s proven to be an interesting
This leads us to another interesting question: how easy is it to track such watching and should we count that as watching TV? Furthermore, how do we decide what television is and what isn’t? If a show is made for Netflix but was created using the exact same processes as traditional television, and has relatively the same narrative structure, what are we to make of that? Award shows struggle with this for a while before changing how they operate, and the average viewer really doesn’t care: content is content and they like what they like. Yet for us, the question remains and might not go answered for some time.
In the future, we suspect that when we look at the question from a public health and public well-being point of view, we will consider all content from all sources.
Continuing from the last point, previously television was practically the only video content available unless you count movies, which were more of a special occasion. At a time, television was a new and interesting thing, being disregarded by all but scientists, futurists, and those looking for the novel. Yet now we have content in all formats, live and recorded, available on practically any device that can connect to the internet.
Therefore, we have to consider the amount of content people are watching. We are well beyond the internet being a new and experimental development, or even internet content and streaming being so. It’s a mainstay, and we will never be without it lest a global disaster occur (think about how much of our lives are run online these days). The average American is engaged with some form of media for 11 hours and 54 minutes each day, which we don’t need to tell you is a staggering number. Perhaps this is because of constant access, but it also tells us that we crave distraction.
In terms of the television industry, they’ll be most interested in the numbers related to strictly television broadcasts. Viewer retention is important to them, after all. As for everyone else, though, what is the difference between streamed shows and ones shown via traditional cable? Is there any difference between our minds and habits? We have yet to know, but we suspect the difference is not so large. A screen is a screen and engagement with passive content is engagement with passive content.
Many of us have a television without having a cable subscription. Having cut the cord, people just use a streaming service instead or use it as a screen for their gaming consoles or another device.
When we look at the data for this, we mostly notice the same trends as we usually do:
Looking at the outliers on the data, reading about people watching 10 or more hours of television every day might make you wonder if it's healthy or whether it has long-term effects. After all, with that much time spent other areas of life must be neglected, or it could be a sign of something more serious. Furthermore, living that sedentary life is not recommended by any health professional unless you’re recovering from something, and even then physical therapy is recommended as soon as possible.
Of course, in moderation TV is fine. And we also think that it is likely that people are not entirely focused on the TV while they watch. Some people might have CNBC or a news channel on all day as part of their job, or just keep it on as background noise while they work on other things. Many people might watch TV while on an exercise bike or doing their regular workout. There is a connection to media, to be sure, but not an all-consuming one.
And television can be very helpful if used in the right way. Just as some people watch it too much, some people do not relax enough, and perhaps need some time to sit down. Watching something, perhaps to bond with family, can be a great excuse to do so. It can be a way to get people with otherwise disparate interests together.
While the full data isn’t in yet, the last year or two might look very different from the trend due to the recent pandemic. People were spending a lot more time inside because of it, and many people turned to the TV as a way to pass the time while they couldn’t work or go outside. It replaced people’s social lives to some degree and was something to talk about with friends online or on the phone. Remote watch parties were quite common for a time.
On a related note, it will be interesting to see if viewing habits change as a result of potential changes in programming that started due to pandemic-related production issues. While television productions tried to keep going after the first wave of the pandemic and some of the work could be done remotely (mostly production and post-production), there were still heavy delays. New series or new episodes might be less common until everything returns to normal. Will watch rates go down as a result? We’re still waiting for the data to come in.
And once it's fully over (some might say that is practically the case already), will there be a reverse trend? Will people become sick of television? Probably not, but we might see a downturn for a while as people get back to their lives and put their other endeavors off hold.
And finally, we once again cannot forget the major theme of changes to the idea of content and television in general. People can watch more TV than ever as schedules change, and as on-demand content becomes available. No longer does anyone need to schedule their lunch or day around their favorite soap opera. They can just binge to their heart's desire, and programming to the contrary is not looked well upon. This has become even more apparent in recent years, and it’s a trend we cannot repeat often enough.
There are also a few additional things we noted when performing our research and info-gathering that might be interesting to you. After all, not everything can fit into a neat category.
Whether you aren’t watching as much as everyone else or have realized you need to cut back to give you more time for other things in your life, we hope this piece has given you some insight on the topic. There is so much more to explore and so many other facets of the issue to examine, so we also hope you’ll investigate it further if you are interested. Continue to enjoy the shows you love and have a better relationship with your television, your family, and whatever you enjoy most in life.