We Get 189 Cable Channels, But We Only Watch 17

Oh, and your insanely expensive cable bill? You can blame that on ESPN.
Publish date:
May 23, 2014
television, Netflix, espn, cable, hulu, i watch really horrible television i know

I grew up in a house without television. Yes, I had one of *those* mothers. To her credit, I survived and had the benefit of spending my time doing crazy things like playing outside and reading. I’m not gonna lie though: It was rough when “90210” premiered. Everyone was watching it and I was like, “Brenda and Kelly who?”

There was an old super 70s TV in our basement that my brother and I surreptitiously set up right next to the fish tank (why was that in the basement?) and the sewing machine (another hobby I took up in lieu of “rotting my brain”) which got three channels via the strategic placement of a wire coat hanger. Needless to say, I watched a lot of secret educational programming when I was an adolescent.

But here’s the thing. Turns out only having three channels to watch isn’t that “punitive” after all. Because while you may pay for hundreds of cable channels, turns out you’re only watching a select few.

According to a report last week by Neilsen, “Last year, U.S. cable subscribers got a record average of 189 channels in prepackaged bundles but only watched 17 of those channels.”

I sat down to make a list of the channels I watch of the hundreds included in my ridiculously expensive cable television package ($135 for anyone who is counting) and the first thing I realized was WOW did my mom’s whole “no television” thing really backfire. I LOVE television. Like, truthfully, I’d rather stay in at night and watch TV than do almost anything else in the whole wide world.

Also, I watch really bad TV. And I’ll prove it by listing the channels I watch and why. Get stoked.

  1. CBS: Big Brother, Survivor, AFC Football
  2. NBC: Parenthood
  3. ABC: The Bachelor, Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Nashville, Revenge
  4. FOX: NFC Football, MasterChef
  5. KQED/PBS: Downtown Abbey, Sherlock
  6. CW: Vampire Diaries
  7. ESPN: SportsCenter, SPORTS!
  8. MTV: The Challenge
  9. FX: The Americans
  10. A&E: Storage Wars
  11. AMC: Mad Men
  12. ABC FAMILY: Pretty Little Liars
  13. E!: Anything Kardashian, #Rich Kids of Beverly Hills
  14. HBO: Veep, Girls, Doll & Em, The Newsroom
  15. HGTV: Pretty much any show that is on because some people like to look at porn and I like to look at real estate.
  16. BRAVO: The Real Housewives of Everywhere, Flipping Out, Million Dollar Listing: LA and NY, Southern Charm, Top Chef, Watch What Happens Live, Below Deck, Shahs of Sunset, Vanderpump Rules, and pretty much anything else because Bravo is the best channel in the whole wide world.

And that’s it! I know. How do I have time to date? Oh right: I don’t. Date. Not have time to date. Oh, nevermind.

Seriously though: I don’t watch all of those shows religiously (lie) and I also didn’t include shows that aren’t on the air anymore, which is good because no one needs to know that I was totally obsessed with “The Lying Game” and threw a mini fit when it was canceled. But I mean, that’s a lot of TV. And I also read more than almost anyone I know. Except s.e. Because holy cow does ou read a lot. (I know because ou’s Instagram tells me so and because I buy almost every book pictured.)

Nonetheless, as much television as that it, I’m still only watching a fraction of the channels I pay for thanks to cable television’s “bundling” system, which forces consumers to pick a package of channels, rather than just the channels we actually watch. The channel that's most responsible for driving up prices? ESPN. Liberty Media's Chief Executive actually called ESPN "a tax on every American household." Clearly, it's annoying that one channel can make cable more expensive for everyone. But, personally, I can suffer through it because at least I watch that channel. If I never watched ESPN, I'd likely be livid. Why should I have to pay more for something I don't ever use?

However, there’s actually research that says if we were offered an a la carte menu, the prices for individual channels would soar. Paying a lot for ESPN actually helps those niche channels you love so much stay on the air. If you paid for them separately, they might disappear because they wouldn’t make enough money to continue production. Also, it’s been argued that it’s because of bundling that “we” have been able to discover channels like AMC and fX.

The good news though is that if you really don’t want to pay for a bazillion channels you don’t watch, now you don’t even have to have cable to watch TV. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have all transformed the old TV business model and will continue to do so. (RIP my social life whenever Netflix releases an entire “season” of one of its shows.) In fact, for the first time ever, pay-TV subscribers declined in 2013.

For now, I don’t see the cable television business model changing. At least not in the immediate future. Of course I also never thought I’d walk around with a portable computer in my hand at all times or have a robot that vacuums my living room while I’m out.

ANYWAY, what I really want to know is: How many channels do you watch and which shows should I add to my growing list? (Don’t worry: I just discovered Orphan Black. Already obsessed.) Tell me in the comments, please!