The average American will waste more than a year over a lifetime looking for something to watch on TV

It was easier to pick a show when there were less channels to choose from.
It was easier to pick a show when there were less channels to choose from.
Image: AP Photo
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We really are frittering away our lives in front of the television, a new study suggests.

The average person in the US spends 23 minutes per day flipping through live TV channels and searching the TV guide for something to watch, according to the communications company Ericsson’s 2016 ConsumerLab TV & Media report.

That’s about 15% of the 129 minutes the average person spends actually watching TV on a typical day. Over the span of an 80-year-long life (roughly the average life expectancy in the US and other developed nations), that’s about 1.3 years, the report notes. OK, kids aren’t channel-flipping as soon as they are born, so in reality it’s a bit less than that, but still, even if they only start at age 16, it’s at least one whole year wasted scanning TV channels, trying to find something good to watch.

The same is roughly true for viewers in a dozen other countries, including Brazil, China, Germany, Mexico, and South Africa. Consumers there will spend 1 to 1.5 years on average during their lives searching for programs on TV, while people in India will spend 1.7, the study found.

Ericsson ConsumerLab interviewed 30,000 people between the ages of 16 and 69 in 24 countries around the world about their TV and media viewing habits, including 2,000 in the US. All of the respondents had broadband internet and said they watched TV or video at least once a week.

If you think finding something to watch on TV is rough, it’s even worse on streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go.

About 23% of the total time viewers spend on Netflix is spent searching through titles. HBO Go viewers waste about a third of their time on the streaming platform browsing through shows such as Game of Thrones or Westworld.

For some reason, viewers don’t seem to mind searching through endless titles on streaming video services as much as they do channel surfing. Sixty-three percent of people surveyed said they were “very satisfied” with the way they discover content on video-on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, while only 51% said the same for live TV.

Perhaps that’s because the promise with platforms like Netflix and Hulu is that you’ll ultimately find something to watch or binge-watch on your own terms. Whereas with live TV, you’re at the mercy of the networks’ schedules.

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited the report’s calculation that Americans would spend an average of 1.3 years of their lives channel-flipping, without noting that the researchers made the assumption they were starting from birth.