Nielsen says people pay for far more channels than they watch

A new study by Nielsen shows that while the typical American household has almost 200 channels to choose from, viewers typically only watch about 17 networks on a regular basis.

The number of channels available to pay-TV subscribers has grown tremendously over the last decade. In 2008, the average home received 129 channels. Now that same home gets 189.

However, the study also confirms that more channels does not necessarily mean more channel surfing. The 17-channel figure has remained in place despite the increase in outlets to choose from.

“This data is significant in that it substantiates the notion that more content does not necessarily equate to more channel consumption,” Nielsen said.

The study will also give more ammunition to media watchdogs and consumer activists who argue consumers should have more choice in determining what channels they receive.


The television industry has resisted calls for so-called a la carte programming, arguing it would not necessarily lower bills unless programming costs went down too.

If a cable network were suddenly in 30% fewer homes, it would need to find a way to make up for that lost revenue and the easiest approach would be to just charge the people who still get the channel even more.

However, the rising cost of sports programming is starting to lead to louder calls that at least some content should be sold to consumers who want it and not forced on everyone.