Americans Watch Less Than 10% of Available TV Channels

The path to cheaper cable looks murky at best.
For all the television content Americans have access to, they’re consistently only watching 17 channels. –AP Photo/Elise Amendola

The average U.S. home with a television has access to 189 channels, but consistently watches just 17 of them.

That and other findings will be revealed in a forthcoming report from ratings measurement giant Nielsen.

While the number of average channels per home has increased by about 60 since 2008, the number of channels consumed has stayed between 17 and 18 year after year.

“This data is significant in that it substantiates the notion that more content does not necessarily equate to more channel consumption,’’ Nielsen notes in a press release previewing its Advertising & Audiences Report.

The idea that viewers don’t want everything their cable set will offer has come about elsehwere. For example, polling has shown the majority of Americans would prefer to either choose their channels a la carte, otherwise customize their cable package, or receive a smaller bundle of “essential channels.’’ Of those polled, 65 percent said they would want at least 10 channels, and 26 percent said they would want between six and nine.


Another survey, from coupon company Coupon Cabin, showed that 45 percent of U.S. adults consider cable TV a waste of money, even though 81 percent of respondents subscribed to a cable or satellite service—indicating that people are willing to shell out for their favorite content, even if they’re not happy about it.

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) filed legislation to encourage a la carte cable services last year, but it stalled in Congress. A study released last year by investment banking firm Needham & Company suggested the economic effects of unbundling cable packages could have major negative economic effects on the media and television industries.

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