TV watching at all-time high
Americans are viewing more TV than ever before. How much is too much?
This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
Unemployment is high. The economy is struggling economy. And Americans are watching more TV than ever before. According to the Nielsen Company, the average American now watches about 34 hours of television on any given week. That number, however, may be misleading.
The Nielsen Company measures the amount of time a television is turned on and which channel the TV is playing. However, it cannot measure whether the people are in the room, paying attention during the program or even if they're awake while the show is playing, Robert Thompson -- professor of Radio, Television and Film, and Director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University -- told PRI's The Takeaway.
What's changing, Thompson says, is how we're watching television. He cites studies where cameras record those watching TV, saying, "with the exception of their favorite shows, watching TV often means talking on the phone, answering the door, diapering the baby, leaving the room -- television is often times one of many activities that people are engaging in."
Another problem with measuring TV viewers is that while the amount of television watched by Americans is at an all-time high, the viewership of individual programs are much lower than they have ever been in the past. This is because the options of what to watch are ever-increasing. In the past, there were three major networks that everyone watched. "Everyone was feeding from the same cultural trough for the first eight decades of the 20th century," Thompson says, "that had never happened before."
Since the advent of cable television, the number of shows has exploded, causing the influence of any individual network to be much lower than it has been in the past. "For example, in the 1970's if a show would have gotten a 22 share -- meaning 22 percent of the country that were watching TV was watching that show -- and it would have gotten cancelled. Today, if you got a 22 share you would be the number one show in the country."
So how much television is too much? Thompson says, "you may be watching too much TV if you fall asleep to it."
"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.