Five Hours of TV per Day

Friday, July 17th, 2015

The average American watches more than five hours of live television a day:

More if you’re African American. Quite a bit more.

Less if you’re Hispanic or Asian American.

For all ethnic groups, TV viewing time increases steadily as we get older, according to the March 2014 “Cross-Platform Report” released by the Nielsen media ratings company.

Once we pass 65, we watch more than seven hours a day.

The average American then spends another 32 minutes a day on time-shifted television, an hour using the Internet on a computer, an hour and seven minutes on a smartphone and two hours, 46 minutes listening to the radio.

Averages can be deceiving, but wow.


  1. Buckethead says:

    Where do they find the time? It’s a huge TV week for me if I watch five hours.

  2. Felix says:

    I wonder how well they compensate for those who leave the TV on all the time. And whether that behavior is group-specific.

  3. Hammer Head says:

    My dad has definitely started watching more TV since he retired.

    It’s really strange. When he was working, he was a pretty standard Midwestern-type conservative, to the extent that he talked about politics at all, which was rare.

    But now, every time I visit him, he talks about politics all the time, and it’s always the basic CNN liberal stuff, down the line. It took me awhile to figure out what happened, until I realized that it was just because he sits around watching the TV news all day. It’s a little scary how effective the medium is.

  4. Slovenian Guest says:

    And getting rid of the “electronic J–” remains the single best “life hack” out there, but people are flabbergasted by the mere idea — because, where do you point your furniture at without a TV?!

  5. David Foster says:

    “I wonder how well they compensate for those who leave the TV on all the time. And whether that behavior is group-specific.”

    I’m guessing not at all. And even among those who are not TV addicts, there are probably quite a few people who leave the TV on when doing housework, cooking, etc.

  6. Gwern says:

    The original Nielsen report explains the details:

    Television Methodology

    On Traditional TV includes Live usage plus any playback viewing within the measurement period. Time-shifted TV is playback primarily on a DVR but includes playback from VOD, DVD recorders, server based DVR’s and services like Start Over.

    On Traditional TV reach includes those viewing at least one minute within the measurement period. This includes Live viewing plus any playback within the measurement period. Second Quarter 2014 Television data is based on the following measurement interval: 03/31/14-06/29/14. As of February 2011, DVR Playback has been incorporated into the Persons Using Television (PUT) Statistic.

    Metrics for Using a DVD/Blu-Ray Device and Using a Game Console are based on when these devices are in use for any purpose, not just for accessing media content. For example, Using a Game Console will also include time when the game console is being used to play video games.


    AM/FM Radio Methodology: Audience estimates for 48 large markets are based on a panel of people who carry a portable device called PPM that passively detects exposure to content that contains inaudible codes embedded within the program content. Audience estimates from the balance of markets and counties in the US are based on surveys of people who record their listening in a written diary for a week.

    So this is hard objective evidence based on logging of how much devices are on, which at least improves over the old and notoriously misleading ‘diary’ methods Nielsen ysed way back when, but it won’t directly answer how large a fraction is ‘true’ watching and how much is passive or background. Still, we can look with eyebrows raised at some of the ethnic group differences (black vs asian, 9 vs 2 hours?!), and I’d believe at least half of the recorded times are true watching — certainly old people genuinely seem to spend enormous amounts of time watching TV. (I sometimes wonder if my granddad does anything these days except read the newspaper with breakfast and then switch to the couch for TV and then to bed.)

  7. Slovenian Guest says:

    Heavy watchers also suffer from what is commonly known as the CSI syndrome, where exaggerated TV competence is projected onto real life, skewing reality.

    Ergo, the first thing every serious despot should do is to commission a few TV shows in Hollywood, like a soap opera, sitcom, a crime drama… which all portray your regime as humane, competent, just, funny & romantic.

    Forget beheading videos, remake The Nanny!

    And the trick for this to work are truly good productions, which even foreign TV stations would be happy to play. Imagine the propaganda win, if all outsiders knew about Whatever-stan are those shows. Well, we don’t have to imagine it, it’s already true for the USA, nobody here in Europe thinks homeless tent cities when they think of Los Angeles for example…

  8. FNN says:

    “Ergo, the first thing every serious despot should do is to commission a few TV shows in Hollywood, like a soap opera, sitcom, a crime drama… which all portray your regime as humane, competent, just, funny & romantic.”

    Nearly all the 1,000+ movies made during the Third Reich were said to be lighthearted romantic comedies and similar fare. The one film made about the Gestapo had them pursuing counterfeiters. Fewer than five were openly anti-Semitic. There was only a small number of art films for the intellectuals — something the Hollywood of the era only did unintentionally,as in Citizen Kane.

  9. Graham says:

    Interesting. I have recently realized I treat TV like people once treated radio [at least when I was a kid in the 70s], and radio/audio like most once treated TV.

    Since most of my music listening is recorded, I only have it on when doing nothing else save, usually, reading. It’s an active process, as TV used to be and, I imagine, radio was long before my time.

    Whereas with TV I pretty much have it on when at home, unless I have company of course. Manners. Which to me makes it like radio was in my parents’ house. Background noise.

    Of course, I pick whatever is on I am most likely to like as noise, and will occasionally engage with the show. So that’s a degree of involvement. But even if it is on from roughly 8-midnight most nights, my active engagement is a fraction of every hour except for a slight bump during 11pm news. Or if I’m on a rolling news channel and a new story of interest comes up every few hours.

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