Saturday, March 18, 2006

How Many People in the World Watch Television?

? I had never sought answers to this question until Melissa Weiner, my publicist, wrote a blurb for me that left a blank for me to supply the correct estimate. It was a good blurb, so I made a good effort to fill in her blank. It was not possible, unfortunately, so instead of estimating the billions, I just said, “the great majority of the world’s population now has regular access to television." That is true, if woefully imprecise. Nobody has the numbers.

Even ballpark estimates are hard to come by, and the ones that have been published are out of date. And when I did find a good article, I deleted the author’s name by accident — and besides, I’m too well trained academically to want to base my own essay entirely on another single piece of research. But it was a good paper, so forgive me, whoever you are at Norwich University who wrote that fine article in about 1996.

The author writes, “Daya Thussu, in Electronic Empires, estimated that 2.5 billion people have regular in the South (the developing world)—meaning about half the people that live there…” But since the most recent date he mentions was 1996, the TV audience must have increased vastly since that time. I’ve seen the comment in several places that poverty has not kept people from owning television sets, and that the ownership increased threefold in about ten years, so it must have surpassed 2.5 billion quite a while ago.

Other figures that I’ve seen report that 2.5 billion people watched , that 1.1 billion still are watching (which I have never seen), and that an expected 45 billion probably watched the last soccer match. I can only conclude that the typist left out a decimal point between the 4 and the 5. Anyway, these soccer estimates are fairly recent and certainly soccer is the most popular sport, so 4.5 billion may not be far wrong.

Of course, access to television varies considerably from one area to another, with Africa definitely lagging behind all other regions. China, on the other hand, is doing well — at least if you consider it a good rather than bad thing to own a set. The unknown author from whom I am swiping my data reports that, “ CCTV claims to reach 84 percent of the population, with the number of regular viewers exceeding 900 million.” But his paper is probably ten years old, and I’ve heard more recent statements that “almost everyone” in China has access to television.

At that time (why don’t they put dates on Internet articles?) India was not doing quite as well. Mr. Anonymous wrote, “According to Arthur Andersen, which conducted a study for STAR TV, television reaches only about half of the population of India; 78.9 percent of the urban population and 39.8 percent of the rural population. In total, that is some 80 million television households in India (and probably many more), of which half can get cable or satellite.” But when I had lunch with Sonny Fox about two months ago in Studio City, he told me about his involvement in producing a soap opera in India that regularly reaches 150 million persons. Then he mentioned another in China that reaches, he supposes, about the same number.

I was impressed — even astounded. But most of the time when the numbers are estimated in discussions of the global impact of TV, it is by someone who's lamenting the cultural globalization caused by television shows. Often, however, the authors actually point out that the worries are exaggerated. Whereas it is true that in very poor countries most TV shows are initially imported from Hollywood, each country gradually asserts itself and begins producing local shows that are even more popular than the American imports. Besides, when it comes to imports, there are lots of other countries that offer their shows besides Hollywood. For example, the most popular show in Russia was a Mexican soap opera.

Anyway, I have never worried about . I see no justification for cultural protectionism for the sake of keeping old national traditions alive. I care about the quality of a show, not its origin. Personally, I have sometimes benefited from being Canadian, since many Canadians are nationalistic and gladly pay money to support their national culture. That's nothing to worry about, in my opinion. And in any case, the world is apparently not becoming homogenized, despite the fact that most people, even in poor countries (with the exception of some African societies) have ready access to television. They prefer different shows, and when they do watch the same Hollywood show, they notice quite different aspects of it. For better or worse, the world's countries are still diverse.


Blogger Jocko (Jacques) Benoit said...

I agree with your conclusions here. In fact, I think the same things can apply to a discussion of film. I'm just finishing up a course on Hollwood films for the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta and I've been pointing out to my students that, in many ways, Hollywood is an international creation in terms of the people who are drawn there to create films and the source materials they choose.

After all, if Hollywood films are so 'American', then why do international grosses now exceed domestic ones? There is something perhaps for everyone. But I think these films also manage to tap into a mythic storytelling core that is at the heart of stories everywhere. And I think film industries in other countries also produce films we recognize our 'mythic selves' in. I guess I tend to see more similarities across cultures than i do differences.

(In fact, I think the differences between any two people from one culture are as vast as the differences between any two cultures.)


3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

exactly how many people watch television

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow thats really smart i would have never thought of that. im doing a school report on television. i googled how many people watch t.v. in the world i found yours thought is was really smart so instead of spending hours surfin the internet lookin for somthiing i deep down knew woulndnt b there. im just saying thank for the info that noone knows howmany people watch television world wide

4:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too, like the commenter above me, was Googling the same question you searched for, to use as a statistic to prove my point that the global village is growing and thriving. While there is ample data about Internet users, finding data on television viewers seems next to impossible, which one would think is something that would be relatively easy to calculate. Anyhow, reading your blog alleviates my concerns that I am simply too crazy for Google to function properly enough for me to produce the statistic I needed. Thanks to you, now I have to figure out a completely different way to prove my thesis. At least I didn't spend another hour searching for the statistic though.

11:39 PM  
Blogger aroldan_salas said...

I agree with most of your article but you really need to cite sources to back up your assumtions

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dI never really thought about some of the things your article mentioned. Well, I thought about them, but not in that way. I mostly paid attention to the fact that you kept noting your lack of citation. It was a brave thing, writing so much with a lack of citation. I sympathize with not being able to properly cite your sources, as well. People are always making such a large issue our of Copyright laws and such, but if they themselves ever get around to writing something worthwhile, they never date their article, and you sometimes can't even find the author's name. Ironic?

Also, I'm attempting to write an article defending a certain quote, that deals with television. Of course, I typed into Google my question, and stumbled upon your posting. I found it useful. So, thanks?


2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

can u accually tell me in a number how many people whach T.V.?
its too complicated!!!!

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back to the beging qustion HOW MANY PEOPLE WATCH TELEVIVION???

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this the article you quote?

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Fitty Stim said...

Simple common sense and an understanding of basic mathematics and geography would suggest that people who claim that “2.5 billion people watched Lady Di’s funeral” or that “4.5 billion people watch the last world cup” are quite frankly dumb. I once read that “over 2 billion people watched [the 2001] Superbowl”!?! What a complete nincompoop.

There are about 7 billion people on the earth. About 4.2 billion in Asia, 1 billion in Africa, 940 in North and South America and 730 in Europe.

The last World Cup was played in South Africa. The times of the games were ideal for Europeans and Africans. People living in the Americas, SE Asia or the Far East weren’t so lucky. The games were either in the middle of the night or during the working day.

How many parents kept their kids awake until 3am in order to see Monaco lose to San Marino? Not many because they didn’t qualify but I think the reader gets my point.

There are about 2 billion humans are under 15 according to the CIA World Factbook, the vast majority in Africa and Asia. How many of these watched the World Cup? Not many you say?

Maybe the starving child stopped waving away flies just long enough to see Lady Di’s funeral?

Can anyone imagine what would happen to the economy of the world if 35% of the population stopped moving and watched TV for a couple of hours?

If every single person in Europe and Africa (everyone from the newborn infant to the aging centenarian) sat on their tush and watched a game, you’d still have to come up with almost 3 billion more people in the rest of the world who didn’t work and/or sleep in order to watch TV!

Sometimes the naïveté of people makes me want to weep…

10:53 AM  

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