Cable Companies Keep Adding Channels, But We’re Not Watching Any More Of Them

Pay-TV providers have added more than 50 channels since 2008, but the average household still only watches about 17 of them.

Pay-TV providers have added more than 50 channels since 2008, but the average household still only watches about 17 of them.

If you’re one of those TV viewers who knows exactly where on their vast channel list to find the few stations you watch regularly, or who frustratedly skims past screen after screen of channels you not only don’t watch but don’t even know the names of, you’re not alone. In fact, a new report confirms that the average TV watcher only looks at fewer than 1-in-10 of the channels that come into their homes.

According to new numbers from Nielsen — a company you’d hope would know a thing or two about TV viewing habits — the average household TV receives 189 channels, but only tunes in to 17 or 18 of them.

What’s more, while the total number of available channels has increased by more than 50 in the last five years, the number of channels the average viewer watches has remained flat the entire time.

“This data is significant in that it substantiates the notion that more content does not necessarily equate to more channel consumption,” writes Nielsen. “And that means quality is imperative — for both content creators and advertisers. So the best way to reach consumers in a world with myriad options is to be the best option.”

What the report doesn’t get into is whether TV viewers have remained loyal to the same channels during that five year period or if they have switched allegiances over the years but still maintained that same total number of channels they watch. Given how quickly tastes change — and how rapidly basic cable pumps and dumps reality stars — we wouldn’t be surprised to see that many viewers have dumped one channel for another at various points during these years.

Additionally, the Nielsen news doesn’t say how varied that pool of 17 channels is. Is it four core channels that everyone watches and then the rest represent a wide range of more niche programming options, or do most of us watch the same dozen or so channels and fill in the blanks with a couple more particular options?

If it’s the former, then the broadcasters who force multichannel bundles down cable companies’ throats (You will take ESPN Claymation Xtreme 3 auf Deutsch, and you will love it!) can continue to justify this practice by saying that viewers want varied programming that caters to their peculiar tastes. If it’s the latter, it supports the argument for cutting the cord and paying for a la carte services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. You might not have immediate access to Real Housewives of Pacoima, but you’re also not paying for hundreds of stations you’ll never watch either.

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