Nielsen reported in 2018 that Americans consume on average over 11 hours of media a day, with over four hours a day of television viewing. Several sources suggest people are watching more TV than ever during COVID-19.
The average household is putting in an extra workday’s worth of viewing each week – watching 8+ hours more per week than they were in early March, going from approximately 57 hours a week per household to 66 hours…
Since the start of COVID, these distinctions have blurred and weekdays are seeing viewing levels and trends akin to the weekend. As a matter of fact, in the past two weeks, Monday has become a more popular day to watch television than Saturday.
From the Washington Post:
Explosive demand for TV content led almost 16 million people to sign up for Netflix — more than double what the company predicted before the Covid-19 outbreak. The extended time at home also has been a chance for consumers to take new apps out for a spin, including Disney+, Apple TV+, Quibi and Comcast Corp.’s Peacock. Disney+ has added 28 million subscribers since December. Meanwhile, as the recession causes consumers to tighten their budgets, pricey cable-TV bills will be on the chopping block. Already last quarter, the big four pay-TV providers saw an exodus of nearly 2 million customers, with AT&T Inc.’s DirecTV accounting for almost half of those cancellations.
The desire to save money is boosting interest in free streaming-video services, such as Pluto TV and Tubi, that are funded by advertisers. Pluto TV’s growth proved to be the biggest bright spot in ViacomCBS Inc.’s quarterly results, as the cancellation of the NCAA March Madness tournament crushed traditional network ad sales
From the Denver Post:
Ever since city and state stay-at-home orders abruptly arrived with social distancing in mid-March, Denverites’ TV-viewing plus internet-connected device TV usage (as Nielsen calls it) has jumped up to 20% over comparable periods in the previous weeks.
Local TV stations also have become many viewers’ go-to source for information about the coronavirus and COVID-19, reversing a trend that saw sharp declines in local news viewership in recent years. In the top 25 markets, local news experienced a 7% viewership lift between early February and the week of March 9. Among people 25-54, the spike was more than 10%, and 20% for people aged 2-17, Nielsen reported.
In total, the biggest weekly viewing increase across the country — when compared with the same period last year — occurred the week of April 6, Nielsen data showed.
Several thoughts on this:
- This all makes sense: people are home more and television is one of the top non-work activities for Americans. Even in the age of Internet, social media, and smartphones, television is a force to be reckoned with.
- This adds up to a lot of television on a daily and cumulative basis. For those worried about its effects, when people have more time, they still turn to television.
- This is not necessarily all good news for television networks and content creators. Advertising revenues are tough to find and cord-cutting, connected to unemployment and economic uncertainty, is up.
- It will be interesting to see what happens with long-term viewing patterns. COVID-19 restrictions could last a while in some places and fear about going out in public could continue even longer. Does this mean TV viewing will be up for a while? If so, is there a way for content creators, advertisers, and others to capitalize on the opportunities? Or, imagine a public campaign that pushes other activities beyond sitting in front of a television or smartphone screen (unlikely, I admit)?
The new Peytonville commercial from Nationwide includes shots of a football stadium on a college campus:
From exterior appearances, this might be the fanciest stadium in college football. Yesterday, I wondered if people would more likely place Peyton Manning in his college days or in his long NFL days. The stadium in this commercial is an NFL stadium with its shiny exterior, almost complete roof, and scale. This stadium does not fit on the traditional looking college campus featured earlier in the commercial; this stadium belongs among the gleaming offices and condos in an urban center.
Is this a hidden prediction about where college stadiums will go next? Imagine JerryWorld in Texas but instead for Alabama football or Michigan football. Would the big football schools realize some extra revenue or value in being the first stadium to mimic the big pro stadiums?
In working on some recent research, I ran into the classic 1927 map from Paramount Studios showing filming locations in California (reproduced in numerous works):
Add this to the capabilities of shooting on backlots and the world may be relatively easy to access from Hollywood. There are likely other reasons the film and television industry chose to locate together in and around Hollywood but having such varied nearby locations likely helps.
One thing that is missing from this map: urban locations. This map certainly reflects an interest in more natural settings. Los Angeles in 1927 was still under development. Even later Los Angeles can be fairly distinctive – just look at all the car ads filmed in and around the city. San Francisco offers some spectacular scenery but its uniqueness means it could be hard for the location to double for other places.
In watching a recent episode of House Hunters on HGTV, I was treated to brief scenes of the couple using Zillow:
-I know this is how people shop for houses today. I have done it myself.
-I would guess this means HGTV and Zillow are working together on the show in some capacity. (See a similar clip on ispotTV.)
-House Hunters tries (!) to show what looking at houses might look like.
Even though the scene was brief, I found it odd. It either seemed like obvious product placement (use Zillow rather than Redfin or MLS or other options!), uninteresting storytelling (watch people look at a screen!), or signaled some major change. As the couple then moved to driving around by themselves and looking at houses, I thought for a short moment that they would not even need a realtor: they had found listings online, arranged their own details, and would tour on their own. (Alas, the realtor just met them at the first house tour.)
While there is a lot of potential for HGTV and other similar programming to incorporate devices and screens (mainly smartphones and tablets) into their portrayals of finding property, there is a bigger issue at play for television and film: how can you interestingly portray handheld screens that so many of us are buried in on a daily basis within a story that has to move at a rapid pace? This is not easy.
A recent study shows Americans are sitting more and connects this to increased media usage:
That’s what Yin Cao and an international group of colleagues wanted to find out in their latest study published in JAMA. While studies on sitting behavior in specific groups of people — such as children or working adults with desk jobs — have recorded how sedentary people are, there is little data on how drastically sitting habits have changed over time. “We don’t know how these patterns have or have not changed in the past 15 years,” says Cao, an assistant professor in public health sciences at the Washington University School of Medicine.
The researchers used data collected from 2001 to 2016 by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which asked a representative sample of Americans ages five and older how many hours they spent watching TV or videos daily in the past month, and how many hours they spent using a computer outside of work or school. The team analyzed responses from nearly 52,000 people and also calculated trends in the total time people spent sitting from 2007 to 2016. Overall, teens and adults in 2016 spent an average of an hour more each day sitting than they did in 2007. And most people devoted that time parked in front of the TV or videos: in 2016, about 62% of children ages five to 11 spent two or more hours watching TV or videos every day, while 59% of teens and 65% of adults did so. Across all age groups, people also spent more time in 2016 using computers when they were not at work or school compared to 2003. This type of screen time increased from 43% to 56% among children, from 53% to 57% among adolescents and from 29% to 50% among adults…
The increase in total sitting time is likely largely driven by the surge in time spent in front of a computer. As eye-opening as the trend data are, they may even underestimate the amount of time Americans spend sedentary, since the questions did not specifically address time spent on smartphones. While some of this time might have been captured by the data on time spent watching TV or videos, most people spend additional time browsing social media and interacting with friends via texts and video chats — much of it while sitting.
Does this mean the Holy Grail of media is screentime that requires standing and/or walking around to avoid sitting too much? Imagine a device that requires some movement to work. This does not have to be a pedal powered gaming console or smartphone but perhaps just a smartphone that needs to move 100 feet every five minutes to continue. (Then imagine the workarounds, such as motorized scooter while watching a screen a la Wall-E.)
Of course, the answer might be to just consume less media content on screens. This might prove difficult. Nielsen reports American adults consume 11 hours of media a day. Even as critics have assailed television, films, and Internet and social media content, Americans still choose (and are pushed as well) to watch more.
Sociologist Liana Sayer tracks the leisure time of Americans by gender, finds a half hour gap between men and women (5 hours and 30 minutes versus 4 hours and 59 minutes), and looks at how men spend that extra time:
What are men doing with that extra half hour? Some of it is spent socializing, exercising, and simply relaxing, among other things. But “about half of the gap is from TV,” says Liana Sayer, a sociologist at the University of Maryland and the director of the school’s Time Use Laboratory…
Sayer, in a 2016 paper, called American time use “stubbornly gendered”: On average, women continue to devote more time each day to chores and looking after children than men do. Further, the average American woman spends 28 more minutes a day than the average American man on “personal care”—a time-use category that encompasses activities such as showering, getting dressed, and applying makeup…
Sayer laid out two possible theories. The first: “The idea is that men are able to watch more television, perhaps because they enjoy it, and the reason men are able to exercise greater preference in their time use choices is because they have [more] power than women,” she has written…
The second theory has to do with the ranks of men who have become more socially isolated, whether because they’re out of work, less involved in family life, or both. Women, in addition to working more than they used to, tend to have stronger networks of friends and are more likely to raise children as single parents—which together could make women more socially connected than men. Thus, as Sayer has written, “men may devote a greater share and more time to television because this type of leisure does not require social integration.”
Television continues to have an outsized pull on the leisure time of Americans. This could change over time and the options for leisure seem to have exploded in recent decades, but even younger Americans seem drawn to television, just in through different means such as watching on phones or computers. I wonder for how many Americans television is the default leisure activity when they have no other other or limited leisure options.
I’m sure others have explored this but these time use findings would be interesting to connect to what it means to be a man in the United States: you watch a certain amount of television. Does it matter more what men watch (sports, action shows, etc.) or how much they watch? What cultural expectations do they pick up regarding how much television to watch and how exactly is this passed down?
A Washington Post review of the new Trading Spaces emphasizes the smaller spaces the show worked with:
Though it was technically impossible to indict the cable channels — especially HGTV — for their role in the quick-mortgage fantasia, the connections were plain to see: the schedule was (and still is) littered with shows that spur house envy, encouraging viewers to live in a constant state of renovation, makeover and upgrade. Homeownership became the highest expression of citizenship, while decor became the chief signifier of class. “Trading Spaces,” which premiered in 2000, helped ignite that craze, making it safe to waste entire Saturday afternoons watching home-improvement shows. Yet it hardly deserves all (or any) of the blame.
The show returns Saturday (with a long reunion special preceding it), essentially unchanged and contagiously giddy, full of its usual surprises and reveals. Looking at the first of eight new episodes, one is reminded of “Trading Space’s” conceptual purity: It never goaded anyone into ditching their old house for an open-floor-plan, granite-countertop McMansion beyond their means. Its core principles were to work with what you have, on a restrained budget. It preached a DIY ethic, asking couples to swap houses and redo a room, aided (some would say strong-armed) by a crafty professional designer and carpenter.
A few quick thoughts:
- The scale of renovation on Trading Spaces is much more doable for the average American homeowner compared to the whole house makeovers on many other shows. How many people have the budget to do multiple rooms, particularly creating all new kitchens or master bathrooms? Or, who has the time to hand over their house for weeks as opposed to doing renovations over a weekend?
- The rooms on Trading Spaces tend to be much more varied than the typical home shows that often emphasize an expansive kitchen and open concept first floor. The HGTV shows encourage a homogenous style, moving from stainless steel appliances and granite countertops to shiplap, white cabinets, and open shelving. American homes tend to be unique inside, particularly in certain rooms where people to have eclectic styles and uses.
- While the review above does not blame Trading Spaces for the larger shows to come, once you on television continue (1) glorifying the single-family home as the expression of individual tastes (a long-standing American tradition) plus (2) suggesting that people should be renovating their homes (part of the shift from living in homes to seeing homes as investments), is it a slippery slope to large-scale renovations in big houses?
On the whole, there is a lot that could be said from the move from Bob Villa to Trading Spaces to House Hunters and Property Brothers alongside shifts in American housing. Of course, it is hard to make causal arguments about how watching these shows directly changes behaviors.
I recently read a review of a new documentary that addresses the housing issues and racism of the American suburbs. This led me to a question: do Americans in a largely suburban country watch films that directly criticize the suburbs?
I made a list of the first movies that came to mind as being known for their critique of suburban life. I have also included their box office earnings:
American Beauty – 1999 – $356 million
Far From Heaven – 2002 – $29 million
Pleasantville – 1998 – $49 million
Revolutionary Road – 2008 – $75 million
Stepford Wives – 1975 and 2004 – $4 million, $102 million
This is not an exhaustive list at all though it does quickly become tricky to determine whether a film is truly about suburbia and its way of life or the plot is simply set there.
Two quick thoughts:
- There is clearly an audience for such films. Not all of them were blockbusters but they made decent money.
- Some more data would be useful such as how much money was made on each film and how these box office figures compare to other films of their time.
Based on the research I have done on suburban-set popular television shows, I would guess television shows that try to critique suburbia do not tend to be popular.
Shorter commercials are on the rise:
Commercials of non-traditional lengths have been increasing. Almost 6% of all commercials aren’t 10-, 15-, 30-, or 60-seconds long during the first half of 2017, according to Nielsen’s 2017 Commercial & Advertising Update…
On TV, Fox debuted the first six-second ads earlier this year at the Teen Choice Awards for reportedly $75,000 each. Online, social giants like Facebook and Snapchat are commissioning research that touts the effectiveness of ads in the first two seconds.
I am trying to think of whether long commercials – whether in the 30 second format or 60 second format – hold my attention more than a series of 6 second commercials could. Not a whole lot can be communicated in six seconds but perhaps the mind is fresher when it is consistently seeing new pitches. Now, imagine a 2 minute commercial break broken into at least 8 commercials of 15 seconds. Or, a shorter break of 1 minute split into 10 six second commercials. The contrasts could get pretty interesting.
A communications professor provides a reminder of the physical unreality of television:
There are moments when the “realism” of television breaks down: when framed photographs are poorly photoshopped, when video chats are unrealistically high-quality, and when driving scenes are staged using some very obvious rear projection. But for me the biggest threat to realism on television is something you may never have considered: the way that coffee cups that are supposedly full of coffee are plainly empty.
This video attempts to better understand both why this happens and why it bothers me as much as it does. My hope is it can help solve my problem, whether we define that problem as the emptiness of the cups (please support this cause on social media by using #EmptyCupAwards hashtag) or my own obsession with them.
This is just a small example of how television can warp our sense of reality. Even if we watch with a critical eye, television and film provides a complete universe that looks realistic (unless the presentation is emphasizing the lack of realism) but contains all sorts of weird phenomenon. In addition to the empty coffee cups, let me provide a few other examples from my own life:
- For a long time, I had a hard time believing that shootings and murders could happen in broad daylight. On the screen, they tend to happen when it is dark or stormy, situations that might be befitting of violent action.
- The full geographic scope of communities on television is often skewed – much sitcom actions takes place in a single house or in just a few locations. A show like The Simpsons set in Springfield tends to add parts to the city to suit its needs; Springfield includes these areas: “The city is divided into a number of districts, including Skid Row, the Lower East Side (a Jewish neighborhood), Springfield Heights, Bum Town, East Springfield, Recluse Ranch Estates, Junkieville, Pressboard Estates, South Street Squidport, Little Newark, Crackton, a Russian District, West Springfield, Tibet Town, Waverly Hills, Sprooklyn, Little Italy, and a gay district.”
- I have toured several sets in Hollywood and now I can spot them in various places. For example, the Warner Brothers lot has a city setup that is in all sorts of commercials and television shows. Or, we saw Wisteria Lane which could pop up in an Ace Hardware commercial (with some modifications).
The real issue here isn’t the missing coffee; it is that most of the time it is clear whether TV is presenting a more real or less real depiction yet almost all the time it is in small ways defying embodied life.