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Still Watching TV, but Fewer Channels

As the television landscape continues to change and redefine itself, the number of channels viewers watch and how long they watch them continues to decline.

The Nielsen Total Audience Report for the second quarter of 2016 found adults watched an average of four hours and nine minutes of live TV, a two-minute decrease from Q2 2015. While the decline was not as precipitous as the eight-minute falloff from Q2 2014 to Q2 2015, live TV viewing continued its steady decline in the face of increased competition.

As live TV viewing declines, so does the percentage of channels viewers actually watch, according to the report. That may seem like an obvious conclusion, but in today’s changing television marketplace, nothing can be taken for granted.

On average, adult viewers watched 9.6% of the television channels offered to them on traditional cable lineups — down from 10.6% in May 2014.

African-American viewers, who watch the most television of any group, viewed on average 11.3% of received channels, flat from the same period last year, according to the report. The percentage of channels Hispanics watched year-to-year climbed to 9.1% in 2016 from 9.0%in 2015, while Asian-American channel viewing percentages plummeted to 7.4% from 7.7% in the same period.

Adult viewers with access to subscription video-on-demand channels such as Netflix and Hulu watched, on average, 1.2 fewer television channels, according to the report.

Nielsen’s data bolsters the argument for rolling out skinnier channel bundles with fewer cable networks than the traditional basic-cable lineup.

If the current viewing trends continue unabated over the next few quarters, the drumbeat that says less is more will only grow louder.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.