Ahh, sweet, sweet television. The opium of the people. Is there anything more relaxing than sitting down in front of the TV after a long day’s work and switching your mind on to auto-pilot before bed? It may be nicknamed ‘The Idiot Box’, but there’s no denying that massive chunk of us here in the western world – and beyond – have been effectively raised by television. Many hours of our childhood were spent plopped in front of the TV watching whatever content our parents allowed. Some people watch the good stuff while others limit themselves to mind numbing programming, but truthfully the content isn’t even that important. Whether you’re watching Breaking Bad or Six Feet Under and marvelling at the cinematography and character development or tuning in to Keeping up with Kardashians to keep up with…whatever it is they do exactly, ultimately we’re all just sitting around watching ‘The Idiot Box’.
Excessive TV consumption has been proven time and time again to be detrimental to children and young, developing minds. As enjoyable and relaxing as TV may be, it’s still a one-sided affair; the viewer consumes while the network broadcasts. There’s no engagement or real interaction so consequently its a passive rather than active past-time, and frankly some of us just watch way too much TV. 2 or 3 episodes of a show every day can add up to hundreds of hours of lost time every year, time that could be spent perfecting an art or practicing a sport. Sorry to be a downer, but it’s the truth. Anything in excess is bad for a person’s mind and body, which is why examining TV viewership rates around the world is such an interesting exercise. Some countries don’t watch very much TV, for various reasons. Sometimes they’re too poor for most of the population to have a television set and other times it’s for cultural reasons. On the other end of the spectrum, we have nations whose populations dedicate massive portions of their entire lives to sitting in front of the TV and living vicariously through whatever programming they choose to consume. The following 10 nations belong to the latter; they consume more TV on average than anywhere else on earth.
#10 Brazil – 216 minutes daily
South America’s biggest country is also – perhaps unsurprisingly – its biggest consumer of television. The culture of television in Brazil has grown tremendously in the 60 odd years it’s been available. The first Brazilian broadcast was in 1950, and since then many of its major networks have attracted massive audiences. Brazil’s biggest television network, Rede Globo, is the 2nd biggest commercial network in the entire world. Although internet surfing has recently replaced TV as the biggest source of entertainment for most Brazilians, the average citizen of the largest portuguese speaking nation on earth still consumes 216 minutes of TV every day.
#9 Germany – 222 minutes daily
The culture of television is very different around the world. In Germany, which first began broadcasting television signals in 1935, there is strong opposition to the subscription model of cable television pioneered in the United States. Although certain channels are pay-to-use, the major German networks are all free-to-air. The biggest channel Das Erste – literally ‘The First’ – has most of the market share in the country, but not by much. Das Erste is owned by ARD, which is the 2nd largest public broadcaster in the world after the illustrious BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). Since it’s publicly owned, ARD programming can remain free for Germans all over the country, who watch, on average, 222 minutes of TV every single day.
#8 France – 230 minutes daily
Never wanting to be outdone by the Germans, France edges out their central European neighbours by just 8 minutes to take the #8 spot on our list with 230 minutes of average daily TV consumption. Television first came to France in 1931, with colour TV following a few decades later in 1967. Like Germany, much of France’s television programming comes from a state-owned company, in this case France Télévisions, who own 3 out of the 5 most watched networks in the country – France 2, France 3, and France 5. However, the single most viewed network in France – with 22.6% of the national TV audience compared to runner-up France 2 with 13.9% – is privately owned TF1.
#7 Russia – 238 minutes daily
Russia’s massive geographic size means that it has a plethora of regional channels in addition to several national ones. Only 3 channels have a full national reach; First Channel, Rossiya, and NTV, but when including the number of regional networks the total number of Russian channels is around 3,300. That’s a lot of selection. The major networks in Russia are either state-owned (Channel One, Russia 1) or owned by Gazprom-Media, a subsidiary of energy company Gazprom – which has very close ties to the Russian government themselves, allowing a large degree of government influence in the television programming of the average Russian home. Russians tune in everyday regardless, watching 238 minutes of daily television on average.
#6 Canada – 238 minutes daily
Canada’s proximity and cultural similarity to the United States means that its television industry is in the unique situation of having to compete with other Canadian channels as well as most major American networks. The first Canadian broadcasts took place in 1952 under the guidance of the state-owned CBC, which remains on the air despite fierce competition from the private sector. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) puts a premium on Canadian content to incentivize its production. In spite of this, many Canadians choose to consume American content because of its higher production value and generally better quality. Regardless of what they’re watching, Canadians make sure to tune in every day – an average of 238 minutes daily.
#5 United Kingdom – 241 minutes daily
The UK is well-known throughout the English-speaking world thanks to the proliferation of content produced by the state-owned BBC, the oldest public broadcaster in the world. BBC One and BBC Two together have a 25% of the total viewership in the UK, with the other 75% coming from a plethora of private networks including ITV and Sky. The UK produces a massive amount of domestic content, about 27,000 hours of it every year at a price of £2.6 billion. With all that domestic content – and over 480 channels to choose from – the UK has a strong and distinct television culture that attracts the attention of the average British citizen for 241 minutes everyday.
#4 Poland – 243 minutes daily
One wouldn’t expect the appetite for television in Poland to surpass that of countries like the UK and Canada, but that’s where you would be wrong. The Polish really, really like their TV. Television was first introduced in Poland in 1937, but was temporarily derailed when Hitler decided that invading Poland would be a grand idea in 1939. TV returned after the war in 1952, but was under the control of the communist Soviet Union. After the collapse of communism in Europe, private networks began appearing in Poland and catching on with the general public. There is still a large public broadcaster in Poland, Telewizja Polska, but there are also several private groups that run a network of channels such as Polsat Group and ITI Group.
#3 Spain – 246 minutes daily
The beauty of southern Europe might make one assume that TV consumption would be lower in that part of the world compared to others such as the UK and Russia, but that’s where you would be wrong. The Spanish love their television, consuming 246 minutes of it everyday. TV first came to Spain in 1956 through state broadcaster Televisión Espanola. Public TV remained the dominant force in Spain up until the full liberalization of TV in 1989, which loosened the regulation involved in founding a TV network considerably and set the stage for a private market. Spanish TV has been thriving ever since.
#2 Italy – 255 minutes daily
Television began in Italy in 1939, but was quickly put to rest when Mussolini and the fascists sided with Hitler during WW2. TV returned to Italian airwaves in 1954, where it has remained ever since. The state-owned RAI public broadcaster controls about 37% of the total viewing figures – as of May 2014 – with ex-president Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset coming in 2nd with 33% of the total viewership, making it by far the biggest private media company in Italy. Berlusconi has even been accused of using Italy’s voracious appetite for television and his networks to influence the Italian public during his political career. Consequently, television in Italy is widely regarded as untrustworthy when it comes to political matters.
#1 United States – 293 minutes daily
USA! USA! USA! Could it be anyone else? #1 across the board baby. Americans consume more TV than anyone else on earth by an absolutely staggering margin – an extra 40 minutes a day on average compared to #2 ranked Italy. The USA essentially pioneered the private television business model and 96.7% of american households have at least one TV set, more than anywhere else on earth. The American appetite for TV has created an audience for virtually any kind of fringe programming. Want to watch a show about fishing? We got you covered. More of a bowler? There’s something out there. Want to watch rich people pretend their lives are difficult? Boy, are you in luck. Television is as American as apple pie and freedom, and it’s going to be that way for the foreseeable future.