How do Americans like their TV? All at once and in hour-long episodes

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
June 03, 2022, 2:01 AM GMT+0

For better or for worse, the emergence of streaming has significantly altered the American television-viewing experience. Gone is the heyday of half-hour, episodic shows, dubbed with laugh tracks, punctuated with commercials, and released weekly. New YouGov polling shows that Americans’ expectations have shifted along with the TV landscape. Viewers now prefer commercial-free hour-long serialized shows, released all at once. Even though few people say we’re in the golden age of television, a majority say they prefer the small screen to the big screen. And while many feel overwhelmed by options, a small group of viewers are upping their rate of content consumption via the option of speeding up playback.

Below, we provide a summary of TV opinions and viewing preferences based on a poll of American TV watchers (i.e., people who say they watch TV more often than never):

The golden age: Nearly one in four American TV watchers (23%) say we’re currently in the golden age of television, while 46% say we’re not and 32% are unsure. Adults under 45 are twice as likely as people 45 and older to say we’re in the golden age of TV. Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to say this than White Americans are. Democrats are more likely to agree than Republicans are.

Small screen over big screen: Americans are more likely to say they prefer TV (44%) compared to movies (34%); 11% say they prefer neither. Americans 30 and older have a stronger preference than adults under 30 for TV over movies. One in four TV watchers says they think that now-distinct categories of TV and movies eventually will merge, while 43% say they will not.

Binge-worthy: Many American TV watchers report frequent binge-watching (watching multiple episodes of a TV show in rapid succession): 42% say they binge at least half of the time they watch TV, while 45% say they binge sometimes and 14% say they never binge. Younger adults are more likely to binge than older adults are. People are also more likely to prefer when shows are released all at once (49%) rather than weekly (30%). Younger adults are more likely to say they prefer a show to be released all at once than older people are.

Serialize it: Americans are twice as likely to say they prefer serialized shows, which include story arcs that span multiple episodes or seasons, over episodic shows, with episodes that have self-contained stories and can be watched in any order. More people prefer hour-long shows (46%) than shows that are 30 minutes or less (26%). Older adults are more likely to prefer hour-long shows than younger people are.

A need for speed: Most viewers (77%) are not aware that some streaming platforms offer the option to speed up or slow down the pace of shows. Only 11% of people say they’ve watched TV at a faster-than-normal speed (for example, 1.5x, or 50% faster than the default), while 23% say they haven’t done this but would be interested in trying. More than half (55%) say they haven’t tried and wouldn’t be interested in trying. Men are more likely to have sped through shows in the past than women are.

Choice overload: Some call it the paradox of choice; others, decision paralysis. Either way, it’s clear from our data that a large fraction of TV watchers (38%) sometimes have a hard time deciding what to watch because they are overwhelmed by the number of options. A little over half (55%) say they haven’t felt this way. Men are more likely to say they feel overwhelmed by TV choices than women are. And younger people are more likely than older people are to say they feel this way.

Spoiled: Only 28% of Americans say they aren’t bothered at all by TV-show spoilers, while 23% say they’re bothered a lot by spoilers and 49% say they’re bothered a little. Adults under 30 are twice as likely as people 65 and older are to say they’re bothered a lot by spoilers.

Rewatchable: Most people enjoy new content, rather than repeats of older content: Around 15% of Americans say they rewatch shows very often or not often at all, while 32% rewatch them somewhat often. Others never rewatch (15%) or say they don’t rewatch often (38%).

Commercials and credits: Most people (62%) say they enjoy watching TV less when there are commercials, while 8% say they enjoy it more with commercials. One in four (26%) say they enjoy it the same amount. Younger people are more likely than older people to say they enjoy TV more with commercials. A larger share of Americans say they enjoy title sequences at the start of shows (45%) than say they don’t like them (27%). Young people are more likely to enjoy title sequences than older people.

Laughing out loud: Very few Americans (8%) are fans of TV shows' laugh tracks, which are separate soundtracks containing the sound of prerecorded audience laughter not originally reacting to the show. About an equal share of people say they’re OK with them (40%) as say they’re not fans of them (42%). People 65 and older are three times as likely as adults under 30 to say they’re not a fan of laugh tracks.

— Carl Bialik contributed to this article

Related: Most Americans say shows have become more diverse – and more graphic – since the start of streaming

This poll was conducted on April 21 - 25, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.

Image: JESHOOTS on Pexels

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