As a new member of the “suits” team at CivicScience, I’ve spent the last few weeks exploring our treasure-trove of data, uncovering what most researchers and marketing executives would consider a goldmine of relevant insights. I can clearly see that CivicScience is already shaking up the market research landscape with innovative approaches to data acquisition, insight generation and actionability.

Although my title here at CivicScience is Vice President of Client Development, my real job is to evangelize and promote this unique and trailblazing research platform. In an effort to better understand the scope and value of the data, I decided to dive into a subject that captured my interest long before arriving here – the relationship between “light” and “heavy” television viewers. This is an important topic to both media buyers and sellers alike, as both are faced with the challenge of building and implementing an effective TV campaign. My hope is that this blog post will provide valuable insights as well as display the power and innovation of our research platform.

While it may be difficult to believe, the average adult watches 4+ hours of TV per day. This is a well-documented statistic and, perhaps shockingly, hasn’t changed much over the years. When people hear this they are genuinely surprised or even saddened. They may wonder, “Who are these people who have 4 hours of free time every day to watch TV?”

The answer is that these people don’t have 4 hours of free time for TV – the statistic is an “average.”  The truth is that some people watch much more than 4 hours every day. They watch for 6, 8, even 10 hours.  These people are the heaviest of heavy TV viewers. Which, of course, means that on the other end of the spectrum we have a group of people who watch fewer than 2 hours per day on average.

For a variety of reasons, this is a problem for TV advertisers and the agencies buying the media. First, it’s difficult to adequately reach your target audience when less than one-third of the viewing audience accounts for about two-thirds of all ad impressions. Secondly, with hundreds of networks to choose from, light viewers are highly fragmented, making it even more difficult for advertisers to reach them. Lastly, and most importantly for the context of this discussion, the difficult-to-reach light viewer is more important to advertisers than heavy viewers in many ways.  Why? Let’s take a look.

The CivicScience data below was collected between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2014, and all respondents were asked, “On average, how many hours of TV do you watch each day?” (Also, the data was weighted to the U.S. Census proportions for age and gender.) By the way, all of the data I’ll feature here is readily available to subscribers of our InsightStore™ platform.

I categorized the 118,282 responses into three subsets:

  • Light TV viewers, who watch fewer than 2 hours per day.
  • Medium viewers, who watch 2-4 hours per day.
  • Heavy viewers, who watch 4+ hours per day.

Here’s the overall breakout across these 3 groups:


NOTE: This does not include any data on the 8,304 people who said they never watch TV.

Let’s start with perhaps the most glaring and telling statistic. In January of 2013, 38% of the respondents were LVs. By December of last year, that number was 47%. A 24% increase in LVs over two years is a remarkable statistic, and reinforces the importance of this analysis.  

Let’s dig in.

  • 66% of LVs are employed, compared to 36% of HVs.  And more than one-third of all HVs are retired.
  • LVs are much younger than HVs, with 61% under the age of 44. This is quite a contrast to the HV group, where 61% of respondents are over the age of 44. And 44% are over 55.  (This makes sense; retirees have more time for TV viewing.)
  • 27% of LVs have an annual household income of $100K and are 46% more likely than HVs to have a graduate degree.
  • Not surprisingly, there is a much higher percentage of business owners among LVs.
  • 27% of LVs say they are “extremely busy” in an average week. Compared to the 12% of HVs who said the same thing, it’s no surprise LVs are 47% more likely to go to bed before 10 PM. One could deduce this early bedtime allows them the opportunity to work out in the morning, with 41% of LVs saying they exercise several times a week.

Still with me? Let’s look how LVs consume media and use technology.

  • 69% of LVs get a majority of their news from the Internet, compared to 48% of HVs.
  • LVs are more likely to watch their TV content on-demand, with a DVR or via online streaming, while 59% of HVs primarily watch good old-fashioned live TV (compared to 44% of LVs).
  • Primetime (8 PM – 11 PM) viewing is dominated by HV’s, with 50% watching more than 11 hours each week. LVs tune in during primetime, but 65% said they watch fewer than 4 hours each week.
  • Which genre do LVs enjoy most when watching TV? Documentaries! They also are more likely to enjoy travel, home or cooking programs.
  • HVs’ favorite network is CBS, and they prefer reality and drama shows.

In many ways LVs could be defined as market mavens. They follow health trends, are more inclined to learn about new products online and they like to tell others about technology.  And 60% of LV’s have written positive reviews online for a product they like. As for the current industry marketing push toward curved TVs? Those advertisers had better be reaching the light viewer. Of those likely to buy one as their next TV purchase, they’re more likely to be a LV. What about phones? 68% of LVs own a smartphone, compared to only 50% of HVs.  And HV’s are 17% more likely to have a landline home telephone.

Here are a few more unexpected insights to leave you with:

  • 15% of LVs predicted “Birdman” would win the Oscar for Best Picture, compared to 6% of HVs.
  • LVs are more likely to play fantasy sports
  • HVs are more likely listen to 80’s music.
  • Among all registered voters, 27% are HVs and 34% are LVs.
  • LVs are more likely than HVs to shop at Costco and Dick’s Sporting Goods, while HVs prefer Walmart and QVC.

There’s no doubt you now know more (perhaps more than you ever wanted to know) about the differences between light and heavy TV viewers. But believe it or not, we’ve only scratched the surface. Thanks to robust cross-tabbing and correlation-detection capabilities in the CivicScience InsightStore™, there is a diverse set of attributes ready to mine for meaningful insights.

If you are a marketing leader, advertiser or researcher looking to improve your profiling or campaign effectiveness, the InsightStore™ can help with these challenges and much more.

I’m a light TV viewer.

Bill Conaway
VP Client Development