Debate of the Day: How the Hell are We Watching 34 Hours of TV a Week?

The newest Nielsen numbers are in, and lo and behold, in America we watch an average of 34 hours of television a week, almost as much as another full time job. It’s only a 1% increase from last year, but it’s still a ridiculous number, and it makes me wonder, what the hell are people watching?

People always ask me if I just sit around watching TV all day for my job. The answer is no. With the amount of work I have to do, I have to be very focused on what my “leisure” time consists of. I may watch 3-5 shows a week, and on some weeks, I might even get through an entire season of a show all at once, like how I did twelve episodes of Boardwalk Empire last week. But even with this, I’m nowhere close to this 34 hours, and granted I don’t have a family, but that number just seems absurd to me.

The article I’m citing notes that there are now six cable shows about auctioneers or pawnbrokers on TV now, and all of them are considered hits by their networks. There has been a shift in many channels to cater more toward casual viewers, meaning people who will watch anything with the slightest amount of drama. The Discovery Channel, The History Channel  and The Learning Channel are no longer about learning at all, rather they focus on crafting a show after every vaguely interesting job in the country, though they’re reaching new levels of absurdity with niche programs like “Swap Loggers” or “Ice Road Truckers.” It’s also no surprise that in a culture where 30% of the population is obese, there are multiple shows about making cakes on the air that score big ratings.

Reality TV is a big part of this increase as there are simply MORE shows to consume now that require almost no thought. The opposite is true too however, as channels like FX, TNT, USA and AMC are stepping up where the main networks are failing to give us quality programs on a weekly basis, not to mention pay channels like HBO, Showtime and Starz doing the same thing.

But even still, 34 hours? If that’s one person, I guarantee they weigh 300 pounds, if it’s a family, their kids need to be signed up for sports and doing their homework. Even as a voracious consumer of media myself, I have to say there isn’t 34 hours of TV worth watching every week, and you’re wasting huge amounts of time devoting most of your non-work waking hours to these shows.

  • Steve

    What’s even more ludicrous about it is how a lot of networks do “blocks” of one tv show now. You know, when a channel plays anywhere from 3-8 hours of the same damn show. Most shows will play 2 episodes back to back, but sometimes you channel surf after watching tv for a few hours, only to see that the show that was on one channel when you first turned the tv on, is still playing. That’s usually when I hit the arrow keys to see what other shows will be playing on that channel for the next few hours. Lo and behold, more goddamn COPS or campus PD on G4, Jersey Shore, Jerseylicious, Family Guy etc…

    Remember when you were a kid and there’d be that rare occurrence when they’d play 2 episodes of your favorite show back to back? Or if you were really lucky, a marathon? This was a rare gem and something to look forward to like an event. I can still remember being 8 or 9 years old and staying up till midnight on a school night because they did a marathon of Saved By the Bell. My mom finally pulled the plug at midnight.

    I also remember back in the day when we’d all joke about how MTV would play nothing but Real World and Road Rules all day instead of playing music videos. Who’d have thought 10 years later every damn cable channel would follow this trend?

  • ZanicNight

    Well I will agree what if all you are doing is Just watching TV for 34 hours in a week you might need to find a dam hobby and I also agree that Reality TV is getting out of hand.

    For me I never just sit down and watch TV or a movie if I am at home. 1.) I have hobbies like progarming, graphic design, and chainmaile, and playing video games to spend time on while TV Shows are in the background. 2.) I also work out in my house well yes the TV is on in the background. this means after work my TV is own unless I am at the gym (which they have TVs there too) so from 5pm-9pm everyday I have TV in the background that is about 20 hours from monday to friday Now I am sure that I don’t quite get 14 Hours of TV on the weekend but it might happen. I still make it out to the Gym for an hour and a half, go out to lunch, have a date or two, and do some online college work.

    Granted it should be known that I don’t really watch TV I watch feeds online via Hulu, Netflix,, or I just Torrent some of the older shows I like. That long with Movies, music, Podcast and Audio books I always have something on in the background. Most people who just watch tv 34 hours a week could be doing other things while watching TV but I doubt it. It also should be noted that Nielsen rating and numbers come from homes that have the Nielsen boxes. This is normal families with two children. If you think about 4 people watching 34 hours of TV is not all at once. If the kids watch it from after school till prime time you are looking at about 3 hours about 4 days a week. then the parents watch it from 8pm-10pm that is about some where between 5-6 hours on weekdays, plus saturday morning cartoons (about 5 hours) then football games that can be afternoon till late at night so 5-8 hours there. If you add all the high end numbers you get around 42 hours. Which seems like a alot but you divided it up between 4-5 people and think of it as them watching as different times it is not as bad.

  • brian

    There are 168 hours in a weeks
    I imagine a person can watch 4 hours on week days
    and seven on weekends

  • Mikey

    I, along with most of my friends, keep our cable boxes on at all times. Who knows how many countless other people do that. That average could be askew

  • SweetHoney

    Meh. I’m unemployed right now (thats a pretty big part of it), but I tend to leave the TV on all day while I do things around the house.
    Also, while I read comedy lists for hours on end to dull the boredom…
    But anyway, I purposefully record marathons of TV shows on my DVR for days like these, or I just Netflix an entire season of a show.

    And for the record, I am not obese. In fact, I just lost 10lbs (on my already fairly small frame) because of the damned recession diet.
    But yeah, 34 hours a week? Sounds about right. Probably more. I’m sad now.

  • Jax

    I think it’s kinda the norm now to just have the TV on but tune out while working on the computer, cooking, exercising, crafting, gaming, etc… Like a society shift from waiting till something you actually wanted to watch was on over to just by default having the TV there. I’m sure something can also be said about how TV has become a much bigger babysitter for parents than it was when we were young (I’m in my 20s). People are growing up now being used, and in some cases unable to cope, without that constant voice in the background. Makes me think of “Fahrenheit 451” a bit actually. Also I’m sure society thinks like Homer Simpson now, “Ah, TV respects me. It laughs with me… not at me!”

  • Sam

    I’m sorry but this article makes you sound like a self-righteous douche nozzle. If someone chooses to spend their free time watching 34 hours a week of tv who are you to tell them its a waste of time? Just because you don’t think there are 34 hours of good tv on to watch in the week doesn’t mean other people are losers for watching that much tv. Now before you just say I’m someone that does watch 34 hours a week let me say I watch about 25 hours or so. That is a lot, I’ll admit it, but that’s how I relax after a tough day at work. And for you to just assume that if someone watches that much tv they must be overweight is just a poorly conceived notion. The biggest couch potato I know watches probably 50 hours of tv a week and weighs about 150 pounds. If someone wants to spend 34 hours a week watching tv, knitting, exercising, whatever, then more power to them.
    Plus have you ever watched pawn stars? Its the only reality show I watch and it is absolutely hilarious and very interesting. Are you just going to assume I’m an unintelligent individual that will like anything?

  • Matt Chi


    I’m sorry, but if you work 40+ hours a week like a normal american should, 34 hours of tv a week is absurd. That means other than eating, outside of work all you do is watch tv. If that’s the way you choose to unwind after work….congrats….but doing nothing but watching TV in your freetime is pretty pathetic.

    Pawn Stars is awesome though.

  • Sam

    @ matt chi
    Just because you consider it pathetic doesn’t mean they do. That was my original point, what gives you the right to deem someones personal life “pathetic”? I’m not trying to sound like an overly defensive asshole, like I said I “only” watch about 25 hours, but calling someone “pathetic” because they watch more tv than you do is a pretty dick hole-ish move.
    And I figure with 40 hours of work and 8 hours a night sleeping gives you around 72 hours of free time. So it’s not really *all* their free time, roughly half.

  • John

    Its interesting that no one has even mentioned sports in the discussion of how you can get to the 34 hour mark. Think if you like the NFL you probably will either watch or have on the 1pm and 415pm games, which means about 7 hours of football on a winter Sunday. You have college basketball at 7pm and 9pm every night, you can work all day, fix dinner, and workout and still watch the game and Sportscenter at 11pm. I grant you that 34 hours is alot, but Neilson doesnt say if all happens in one sitting, you can have a great life outside the house and still watch a ton of shows and sports.

  • ZanicNight

    @ MAtt Chi

    I work a 40 hour week 8am-4pm Monday-Friday. I work out at a gym five to six days a week for and average of a hour and a half a day. I turn on my TV at 5pm and it goes off between 9pm-1030pm. that is 4-5.5 hours a day. That is 20-27.5 hours on weekdays only. leaving 7-14 hours on the weekend to make that 34 hours. Having 34 hours of TV is not to had to do. Also as many other people have pointed out it is rare that the major of people are just watching TV the Nielsen boxes don’t have cameras on them logging hours of people sitting in front of the tv only. As a matter of fact CSI is on right now in the back ground as I type this. I can draw, write, do graphic design, complete assignments, do chainmaile, painting, woodworking, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, scan through a magazine or surf the net all while the TV is on. I also have a decent social life and spent a good amount of my weekend on a date or two, or hanging out with friends (but sometimes the tv is on where we are at. ie their place or a bar.)

    ** I Repeat
    If you look at my original message you see I give you a break down. The numbers are based more then likely by families as the Nielsen numbers are based on people who have the Nielsen boxes which is most offered families 34 hours for 4 people is not a lot.

  • ZanicNight


    Look at my message

    “plus Saturday morning cartoons (about 5 hours) then football games that can be afternoon till late at night so 5-8 hours there. ”

    I should have said that is 5-8 hours a day.

    I did talk about sports