How have our tv viewing habits changed over the last 50 years? | Stannah

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Written by Stannah at 7th December 2018

How Have Our TV-Viewing Habits Changed Over the Last 50 Years?

We don’t have to travel very far back down memory lane to find a completely different television landscape. Despite improved technology, the way we watched TV didn’t change much for the medium’s first 50 years. But today, things look quite different. So, what changed?

How has the way we consume TV changed, and is this the case for everyone?

We don’t have to travel very far back down memory lane to find a completely different television landscape. Despite improved technology, the way we watched TV didn’t change much for the medium’s first 50 years. But today, things look quite different. So, what changed?

How have our tv-viewing habits changed over the last 50 years?What does “watching television” mean to you?

Simple question to answer right? If you’d asked this question to your grandparents, your parents or even yourself ten years ago, the answers you’d get would probably be pretty similar to each other (and very different from the answer you might give today). Sure, the further we go back in time, the fewer channels existed and the more limited the programming becomes. At a certain point, programs were aired mostly in black & white and shows adhered to a common formula. But still, the essence of the activity stayed relatively consistent for most of TV’s first 50 years. So, when asked what watching television means to you, you probably would have described it as simply watching a show or movie at a time set by the channel, on the television set in your home.

Today, it can mean different things to different age groups. The internet and innovative streaming and mobile technologies have led to dynamic new players in the television market, changing how we consume shows and movies in ways we couldn’t ever have imagined!

We’ve asked the head of a major Dutch TV network and the manager for consumer intelligence their thoughts on the subject! How did our habits change, and is this applicable for everyone?

Come with us as we take a stroll down memory lane, learn more about today’s changing television landscape and what the future holds for man’s second-best friend: The Television!

P.S: We sometimes feel that there’s so much choice out there on what to watch that it’s hard to make a choice! Do you sometimes secretly long for the “good ol days” when you had 2, maybe 3, favorite shows and that was it? Well, we’ve created a “What to watch guide” based on TV shows from the past! Take a look at what we’ve chosen as a modern-day alternative for “Little House on The Prairie” or “Twin Peaks”!


Table of Content:

How did we used to watch television, and how has this changed?

How have our interests changed and who watches the most TV?

What is the future of traditional television?

What to watch guide!


How did we used to watch television, and how has this changed?

How did we use to watch television, and how has this changed?


Annelies Sitvast has been working in the television industry for over 14 years and today is the head of Dutch commercial TV-channel NET5, a channel that belongs to Talpa Network which is one of the biggest networks in The Netherlands. Together with her colleague Gert-Jan Mastwijk, manager consumer intelligence with 16 years of experience, they gracefully agreed to shed some light on the subject for us.


According to Ms. Sitvast, the way we watched television and consumed content didn’t change for approximately 50 years; then in a relative short period things changed in ways we couldn’t possibly have imagined just a few years ago.

Watching TV before the digital revolution was pretty straight forward. You needed to be home (or somewhere else with a television set) and you’d simply watch whatever was on. Usually you would know when what would be aired because it was very common for shows to be weekly or daily. Otherwise the TV-guide would enlighten you! When your favourite show was on, you really didn’t have another choice than to be physically at home on that hour on that day, or you’d just wouldn’t see it. That was until, the VCR (videocassette recorder) solved that problem. From the mid 80ties on, it was possible to record programs from your TV onto a VHS cassette. But it was only when the DVR (digital videorecorder) was introduced that the television revolution really began. Examples of early DVR systems included TiVo and Replay TV.

If you had more than one TV-set (which became fairly common in the mid-eighties) you had a bit more flexibility and didn’t have to fight over the remote control as much. However, watching a show or movie on your own little private screen that could fit in the palm of your hand was still 100% unthinkable!

watching tv from your own little private screen that would fit in the palm of your hand was 100% unthinkable!

The change really lies in how we consume our video content or television, with the rise of the internet being the main reason why traditional TV, has changed. What has really changed is linear television, the internet created streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu and Amazon, but also downloading and streaming.

What does linear television mean?

Linear means: “In order of time.” Literally watching something the moment it is broadcasted on any “normal” TV station. So, actually, when you record something and watch it back later, it’s no longer linear watching. “Head of NET5 Annelies Sitvast

Ms. Sitvast continues in explaining that this change isn’t a bad thing, as it provides a vast new array of opportunities. Creating new platforms and ways to engage with the audience in order to accompany this change is another exciting development for networks worldwide. Mr. Mastwijk explains that for Talpa one of these new developments was their on-demand platform called KIJK (WATCH in Dutch) where people can for example watch episodes a week before they air on TV on their laptops, phones or tablets.

Binge watching: What is it and how does it change the way we experience television?

Binge watching means to watch as many episodes from a show as you possibly can, usually by means of digital streaming services such as Netflix but downloading the episodes or using DVD’s is also common. This is however a phenomenon which is less common when it comes to the age group 55+. We’ll look at this more in depth further in the article.

The boss of Netflix always says: “Our biggest competitor is sleep”. And I think that’s the biggest downside of binge-watching from the viewers perspective. When you finally around 2 or 3 in the morning think to yourself I really should stop now. The whole Netflix model is set on to keep watching, the next episode is played automatically right after another. You could say, although it might be a bit romanticized, that there is something nice about the fact that you have to wait for a week. You have something to look forward to, like you do when you go on vacation. And, part of the fun is to discuss the show with others during that week.” Mr. Mastwijk explains.

how television has changed with the advent of binge watching

It’s curious how some shows only work when it’s possible to binge watch, they explain. HBO’s Game of Thrones for example is the most downloaded show ever and immensely popular. And while people certainly watch it on live TV when HBO airs it, not everyone has adhered to live HBO airings of the show, because you can easily download or stream it and watch it on your PC for free. When a Dutch linear TV channel bought the show thinking it would be a hit, it did not deliver the ratings that were anticipated. The largest part of the interested audience had already watched it, also due to the gap between the original broadcast on HBO and the Dutch channel, from the comfort of their own private digital screen.

The television industry has of course known for years that when people like something and watch an episode they’ll also watch two or three of them. That’s why, for example shows like “Criminal Minds” in which every episode is a stand-alone chapter, are programmed one after the other. “Because once you’re there you just go along with it. That’s actually what the whole Netflix model is designed on. Once you sit down and you like something, you’ll continue to watch.”

How have our interests changed, and which age group watches the most TV?

When we talk about linear TV the biggest age-group according to our experts are people over the age of 55. The younger age groups tend to follow the trends we discussed here above a bit more, however watching TV digitally is in no way exclusive to the younger generations! When you think about it, it’s only logical that people over 55+ are loyal to traditional television.

“We’ve noticed that in the last years the 80+ age group has increased in the hours of television they watch.” Gert-Jan Mastwijk, Talpa TV

  • In 2014 the 80+ age group watched an average of 4.9 hours a day of traditional television, in 2017 this has increased to 5.2
  • The same period for the 65+ age group shows no change, they watch an average of 4.7 hours

Some reasons we can find to explain this increase are the following:

  • We live longer
  • Older people have a different life rhythm as they’re usually retired
  • Loneliness can occur with seniors, television is used as an “companion”
  • Increase in content with and for seniors

“So, TV is HOT with the older viewer! And, they mostly watch it the “normal” way so just the traditional linear way.” Ms. Sitvast ads. Even if commercial networks aren’t necessarily creating content for a senior audience or anything like that, on average, a senior viewer watches television created for young and old. Sport, news program, or local reality are popular amongst the older age groups, which is only provided by traditional television.

older man watching television

We asked our experts how our interest, in terms of content, have changed compared to when today’s seniors were younger. The biggest change was the rise of reality TV which started with Big Brother back in 1999. Meaning television shows with real people featured, which also is a traditional television exclusive! Reality television, including big entertainment shows like The Voice or American Idol, as it has the live element is only shown on linear traditional TV. Of course, reruns can be watched digitally, and people do tend to look back at their favorite performances on YouTube, for example.

What is the future of traditional television?

Even though traditional TV as we knew it before the “digital revolution” has changed, there’s still a lot of room for television!

Both Ms. Sitvast and Mr. Mastwijk agree that there’s promising future for television as Mr. Mastwijk tells us:” Talpa Network still believes very much in television, our investments are increasing instead of decreasing, we believe that television will always exist. Alongside the digital offer.”

“There is still a large audience, and many opportunities for television.” Ms. Sitvast concludes.

What to watch guide! Take a look what we have as suggestion for Little House on the Prairie!

“More and more content is produced every day and therefore also viewed, it is true that viewing time for some age groups decreased on linear television, but total video behavior for example is increasing! There’re just more ways to watch it” Gert-Jan Mastwijk, Talpa TV

 We have so many choices when it comes to series or movies, that we sometimes don’t even know what to watch! We asked Roald Schigt who works in acquisitions at Talpa Network and specializes in news, trends, ratings and current programming in national and international television, to help us out! And together we created a guide that will pair television shows from back in the day with a new and exciting alternative! Find your new favourite show based on one that you used to love, this way you’ll know almost for sure that you’re not wasting your time in investing in a new show!


Click on the below link to access the guide and get started tonight!