Television viewers generally watch a relatively small proportion of the channels available to them. The numbers have tended to rise, but American television viewers are for the first time watching slightly fewer channels on average. Those with online video services on average watch just one channel a month fewer than the general population. American viewers still watch an average of four hours of live television each day, which is down by just two minutes on the previous year.

On average, American viewers have access to over 200 channels and watch about 20 of them per month, according to Nielsen research.

In May 2016, viewers had an average of 205.9 channels available and watched an average of 19.8. Two years previously there were 197.4 channels available, with viewers watching an average of 20.9.

Groups that view more television tend to watch more channels. Asian Americans are less likely to have pay television, generally watch less and consequently view an average of only 14 channels. Older viewers tend to watch more television and more channels, with those aged over 50 watching an average of 28.6 channels over a month.

Nielsen suggests that viewers are watching slightly fewer channels, partly as a result of lower pay-television penetration, together with so-called ‘cord shaving’ or reducing the number of channel subscriptions, and the replacement of television viewing by other sources.

It turns out that adults with a subscription video on demand service, from Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, watch about one channel fewer than the general population.

“In general, the more time spent watching TV, the more different channels viewed — this is a consistent finding across various race and origin groups as well as different age groups,” explained Glenn Enoch, who is responsible for audience insights at Nielsen. “As TV viewing levels go down, we would expect consumers to watch fewer channels, but we should be cautious in making assumptions about causes.”

Homes with access to online video subscription services tend to be younger and higher-income which are characteristics of homes that watch less television and thus view fewer channels.

The amount of live television viewed each day fell to 4 hours 9 minutes in the second quarter of 2016, down by just 2 minutes on the same quarter the previous year, compared to 4 hours 19 minutes for the second quarter of 2014.

Average television viewing, live and through a digital video recorder, fell from 29 hours 47 minutes to 29 hours 18 minutes a week year on year.

However, among those aged 12-17 it fell by 134 minutes a week, while for those aged 18-24 it dropped by 81 minutes, and among those aged 25-35 it declined by 73 minutes a week. Older viewers watched slightly more, up by 23 minutes for those aged 50-64 and 36 minutes a week for those aged over 65.

Live and timeshifted television viewing in the United States, 2015-2016 Q2. Source: Nielsen.

So, teenagers are watching around 20 minutes less traditional television a day than a year previously, but they are still watching for an average of over two hours a day.

The difference in viewing times over five years is more striking. Those aged 18-24 watched 40% less live and time shifted television in the second quarter of 2016 compared to the same period five years previously.

While the Nielsen universe rose to 118.4 million households, the number of pay-television homes was down by 2% to 98.7 million. The number of cable homes increased by 2% to 53.4 million, while telco television homes fell 17% to 11.2 million. Satellite homes declined from 34.5 million to 34.9 million. The number of homes with broadband only increased by 24% to 4.1 million and the number of broadcast only homes rose 8% to 13.6 million.

The Nielsen Total Audience Report for 2016 Q2 is available from the Nielsen web site.