Nielsen just released their annual estimate of linear TV channels tuned by TV homes, and the proportion is down to a little more than 7 percent. This represents a decline of about half in the past decade (15% in 2006).
This trend would have been more useful with an accompanying trend in the denominator, channels received. Doing a little digging on Google, I found that in 2006 Nielsen reported TV homes received 88 channels. In 2016, the average number was a little over 200, so for the sake of argument I’ll use 200.
Let’s Do the Math
Not surprising for those in the know, this means that the average number of linear channels tuned has remained relatively constant. It was roughly 13 channels in 2006, compared with 15 in 2017. Neither the doubling of linear channels available, nor the massive increase in streaming options since 2006 (not accounted for here at all), seems to have had much impact on this average tuned number.
No doubt some will jump on Nielsen’s report as justification for moving to an “a la carte” pay TV subscription system or evidence of how pay TV offerings don’t address consumer wants. There is certainly an argument to be made that today’s TV network groups put out too many channels, in an attempt akin to CPG companies grabbing as much shelf space as they can command. But does the seemingly low proportion of channels viewed really mean consumers aren’t being served?
Let’s look at other subscribed media. Satellite radio? About five channels of the 100+ channels on SiriusXM take up 90% of my listening time. Newspaper? I might fully read one article per section. Magazines? This varies a lot. I read almost all of The Economist every week, but maybe one article out of the 25 in each month’s Road & Track; other magazines fall somewhere in between. SVOD services? I watch only a handful of their original series. While this is anecdotal, it is reasonable to assume most subscribers fully consume only a small portion of the content available.
Are Subscriptions Socialized Media?
The point here is that almost every medium that relies on a subscription model offers far more content than any one of its users either want or have time to consume. This bundling is a sort of social contract with your other subscribers – you each are subsidizing the other so that in total the overall costs are lower for everyone to get the content in which they are interested.
So the next time someone pulls out this share of TV channels in an argument, I’m going to ask what proportion of the 700 original Netflix series and movies produced in 2018 they watched. I’m guessing it’s not more than seven percent either.