Why Are We Paying for 200 Channels When We Only Watch 17?

According to a preliminary study by Nielesen, on average, Americans only watch 17 TV channels out of the 200 that are typically available. Since this is considerably less than most of us pay for, qSample decided to take an extensive look into how and why we watch what we do.

To better understand their TV viewing habits, we conducted a survey with more than 300 cable subscribers, gauging their perception, attitude, and preferences. The survey was fielded during the first week of May, and the results showed that 69% of subscribers watch more than three hours of TV each day, with 20% tuning in for seven or more hours. While it’s no surprise that the majority of viewers use their television set, a good number (10%) of cable subscribers are using their desktops and tablet devices to watch their favorite shows. Movie channels (31%) were the most popular among our panelists when it comes to the type of programming they prefer to watch. News and specialty channels also were significant, with 26% and 25% respectively.

TV infographic 1

Interestingly, our survey shows that Americans would be willing to pay for more channels, providing they’re the right ones. So, why exactly do we watch only 8% of our entire TV channel portfolio? When presented with that question, 36% of our panel members indicated that they were simply comfortable with the channels they currently watch, and weren’t enticed by the rest of their options. In essence, we can conclude that loyalty is a significant factor here. Only 14% cited, “not having enough time”, as the reason they don’t watch the other channels. The remaining 50% proves that content is king among TV viewers, since lack of relevant programming or poor content were cited as the main reasons for viewers not gravitating toward other channels. When asked whether they would prefer to choose which channels were included in their cable/satellite package, more than 93% of survey respondents said yes. So, why are cable subscribers paying for all those extra channels? The lack of customizable packages means that they don’t have a choice.

TV infographic 2

As annoying as advertisements may appear to be, our survey indicated that almost half of TV viewers remain loyal to their favorite channels, regardless of commercials. When they do switch, only 33% indicated they change the channel instantly because a commercial comes on, and 21% claim that they do so if it’s a commercial they don’t like. This poses a dilemma for advertisers, because changing channels increases the number of commercials a viewer is likely to see, but they will only see those commercials for a very short period of time. Clearly the window for programs and commercials to catch the viewer’s interest is very slim. Confirming the issue, our survey showed that when flipping through channels, nearly 37% remain on one for less than 10 second, and another 22% change in under 30 seconds. One solution to the problem can be taken from the world of online advertisements: Make your point very quickly. By cutting down commercial times to 5-10 seconds, advertisers would have the possibility of reaching 95% of channel flippers, and 66% of viewers that don’t switch immediately when a commercial begins. This would also give networks the opportunity to air more commercials and potentially increasing ad revenue, or shrink commercial blocks to increase programming time and viewer retention. When the average viewer only watches 8.5% of their available channels, the television market becomes a battle of content to win the viewers’ attention and loyalty.

The ability to surf through thousands of channels is something we all probably embrace. Even if we don’t have the time to watch them and are only loyal to a few, we like to know that options are there. However, at the core of it all is the freedom of choice. Americans want the freedom to choose what they watch. In our modern world, where programming is relevant and content is king, cable companies have to listen to viewers, or that 8.5% will continue to shrink.

TV infographic 3

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