Television consumption moves past four-hours-a-day mark

Spaniards spent more time than ever watching the box in 2011 Average person sees 239 minutes of programming daily

The average Spaniard spent more than four hours a day watching television in 2011.
The average Spaniard spent more than four hours a day watching television in 2011. SANTI BURGOS

Spaniards are watching more TV than ever before. Average consumption for the past year brushed past the four-hours-a-day mark. Or, to put it another way: viewers in 2011 dedicated the equivalent of two months of their lives to gazing at the best loved of electrical appliances.

Viewing patterns are not the same in all the country’s regions. The Aragonese are the country’s biggest TV lovers (259 minutes a day), while Galicians are those least drawn to the so-called “idiot box” (213 minutes). Consumption also varies from month to month. In December, for example, the average rate was 259 minutes a day compared with an annual figure of 239 minutes.

This increase is in part due to the economic crisis, but it also has a lot to do with the introduction of digital terrestrial television (DTTV). “The triumph of DTTV accounts for three-quarters of this greater consumption,” says Ricardo Vaca, president of consultant Barlovento Comunicación.

Upgrading from four or five to 40 channels has caused the amount of time Spaniards spend in front of the TV to skyrocket. However, Vaca notes the rate is similar to that in Italy and the United Kingdom and still a long way from that in the United States and Japan, where viewers spend four-and-a-half hours a day in front of the screen.

For Barlovento, new technologies do not seem to reduce TV consumption but rather have the opposite effect: feeding back to the audiovisual product.

The map of television drawn by audience measurement company Kantar Media is one of atomization. Not one channel managed to get more than 15 percent of the audience share. State TV station TVE-1 dominates with 14.5 percent, according to data analyzed by Barlovento up to December 28, 2011. Telecinco is hot on its heels with 14.2 percent, followed by Antena 3 with 11.5 percent. Regional stations continue above the 10-percent mark, while Cuatro (6.1 percent) remains ahead of La Sexta (5.7 percent).

But it is a map in the middle of being redrawn. La Sexta’s absorption by Antena 3, the government’s cuts to state broadcaster RTVE’s funding (200 million euros less on an anticipated budget of 1.2 billion euros) and the closure of VEO and La 10 will mark the course now unfolding. “We are immersed in a radical transformation of the business model,” notes Vaca — a change that will be worsened by a fall in advertising turnover. Barlovento calculates that investment will experience a drop of between eight and 10 percent.

It’s unlikely that all broadcasters will be able to survive in such a hostile environment. CNN+ ceased broadcasting in 2010 and some municipal channels have also found themselves forced to shut up shop. Vaca notes that making television “costs a lot of money” and to be able to compete in an increasingly demanding market requires a “critical mass” of business that eats up abundant economic resources.

Seeking to make budget cuts wherever it can, the cash-strapped Popular Party government is now preparing a draft bill that would open the door for the publicly run regional TV stations to be privatized. It has even put forward the idea of creating a single channel not tied to any particular area as a way of similarly lowering costs. The regions receive around 1 billion euros in subsidies.

Above all it’s about content that pulls in the big audiences, such as soccer. The most-viewed broadcasts in 2011 were the encounters between Real Madrid and Barcelona. One of their Champions League clashes brought TVE-1 more than 14 million viewers. By demographic group, TVE-1 dominates audience share among men and the over-45s, while Telecinco is preferred by women and those aged between 25 and 44. Antena 3 is the favorite among teenagers and young people, while Clan wins out among children.

In terms of programming, TVE-1 emphatically leads the way in one particular area: news. It is at the top in all news programs with an average of 2,559,000 viewers, while Telecinco’s news output attracts just 1,786,000 overall.

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