With Netflix and Amazon Prime, Facebook Video and YouTube, it’s tempting to imagine that the tech industry destroyed TV. The world is more than 25 years into the web era, after all, more than half of American households have had home Internet for 15 years, and the current smartphone paradigm began more than a decade ago.
Americans still watch an absolutely astounding amount of traditional television. In fact, television viewing didn’t peak until 2009-2010, when the average American household watched 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV per day. And the ’00s saw the greatest growth in TV viewing time of any decade since Nielsen began keeping track in 1949-1950: Americans watched 1 hour and 23 minutes more television at the end of the decade than at the beginning. Run the numbers and you’ll find that 32 percent of the increase in viewing time from the birth of television to its peak occurred in the first years of the 21st century.
Over the last 8 years, all the new, non-TV things—Facebook, phones, YouTube, Netflix—have only cut about an hour per day from the dizzying amount of TV that the average household watches. Americans are still watching more than 7 hours and 50 minutes per household per day.
The thing that Americans do most often with their free time is not cooking or exercising or hiking or any other seemingly salutary activity. No, Americans watch TV. That’s the default the current move to even tinier screens has to be measured against.