Finally putting into quantitative measurements what has previously only been expressed in sighs of exasperation, Nielsen reports that, while most Americans now have a cable package offering around 200 channels, they typically only watch about 17 of them. The findings come from a new study called “Wait, There’s An Encore Channel Called Encore Black?” when in the general vicinity of our televisions.

More officially, the study is part of Nielsen’s Advertising & Audiences Report, which found that the average U.S. home today subscribes to around 189 channels—a far higher number than in 2008, when there were just 129 channels to choose from, and approximately only 75 of those related to basketball. But when it comes to cable television, as it is with single men, availability doesn’t necessarily translate to desirability, since viewers tend to stick to just those 17 channels they frequent. Nielsen says this “substantiates the notion that more content does not necessarily equate to more channel consumption”—though frankly, that just sounds like a dare. It kind of sounds like Nielsen is calling you lazy.


In addition to fueling you to quit your job, so you can get off your ass and watch more TV, the study is also expected to fuel the growing argument that providers should offer more choices in their packaging—possibly even allowing for “a la carte” programming that would allow subscribers to pick only the things they actually watch. But the industry has long resisted those calls, knowing that smaller channels would likely disappear altogether (no one’s going to pick you, Ovation), and the surviving channels would have to either significantly increase subscription costs, or significantly decrease spending on their programming. The end result would thus be bills that are every bit as high for a lower overall value, and also maybe E! is forced to cut back to just three or four Kardashian shows.

In light of this—and despite the study’s findings—the cable and satellite industry is expected to continue its current strategy of adding more and more sports and lifestyle channels while just pretending the Internet doesn’t exist.