What TV REALLY Costs Us

We’re not going to talk today about the best deals on widescreen TVs or the most cost effective cable packages. No, I want to focus on what I’m certain are the far larger effects of TV on our finances. Those effects include time, opportunity cost, and free thought. Those are what TV really costs us.

Let’s take a close look at each.

What TV Really Costs Us in Time

According to Adweek adults in America average four hours and 31 minutes watching TV each day. That works out to be more than 31.5 hours per week! It’s almost the equivalent of a second full-time job.

What TV REALLY Costs Us
What TV REALLY Costs Us

When media consumption of all types is calculated – including time on the social media – the total rises to – get this – 10 hours and 39 minutes per day. That’s more than 40% of the total hours in a day, including sleep time.

But let’s leave the social media component for another day. We have our hands full with TV alone.

If we spend eight hours each day sleeping, another 10 hours working – taking lunch and commuting time into account – plus 4.5 hours watching TV, that eats up 22.5 of our 24 hours. That leaves just 1.5 hours each day for virtually everything else we have going on!

The next time you wonder why you have no time for what you really want to do in your day, calculate how much time you spend watching TV.

What TV Really Costs Us in Opportunity Cost

If TV commercials represent a frontal assault on our finances, an even larger attack is underway diverting us away from more productive activities. Ask yourself: What money producing/saving/life fulfilling activities  could I be engaged in if I weren’t watching TV?

Here are some thoughts just on the financial side of the ledger:

  • Exercising to improve health and lower medical costs
  • Investing time in career improvement by taking courses to learn new job skills
  • Developing a side business for extra income or a future full-time venture
  • Working part-time to produce a badly needed extra income stream
  • Fixing what’s broken rather than calling someone to repair it
  • Getting involved in local government to fight higher taxes and fines (which are really backdoor taxes assessed in the name of public safety)
  • Creating and tending a vegetable garden to save money on grocery bills
  • Networking with others to expand job and business opportunities
  • Drawing closer to family and friends or getting to know neighbors who might offer expertise and skill sets we’re now paying others for

One of the biggest obstacles to personal progress is creative avoidancedoing what’s unimportant instead of what really matters. TV is one of the biggest components of modern creative distraction. In short, TV keeps us from doing what we know we should do.

What TV Really Costs Us in Free Thought

I rate this as the biggest cost of all. The primary purpose of TV is to sell us something. The entertainment content is merely the means used to carry the sales messages.

Commercials are the obvious pitch, but even program content is often an attempt to sell us on a lifestyle. This is why advertisers match their commercial runs to programs that attract specific corresponding audience profiles.

Every minute we watch TV we’re being told to buy something. How could this arrangement not sabotage a budget? If we hear the messages repeated enough, wishes can turn into perceived needs. And if we can’t afford it, there’s always easy financing.

Do you see where this goes?

But we’re also influenced in more subtle ways, not just in what to buy, but also what we should think, how we should perceive the world and how we should respond to it all. And there are costs attached to all of it.

All Sports All the Time – And the Meaningless Post-game Analyses

Participating in sports can be an excellent way to get in shape and stay healthy. For most people however, sports have become something they watch far more than they participate in. It’s the “armchair jock syndrome”.

The marriage between TV and sports has proven to be an especially potent mix. Have you noticed how many sports networks there are now, showcasing every sport in existence, regardless of the size of the market?

Guys, we’re especially guilty here. Many men are “all sports guys”. They follow nearly every sport and 24/7 sports programming makes it easy. Football, baseball, basketball, golf, gymnastics, Olympic trials – if it’s a sport, they’re on it.

In between games, there are sports talk programs. Now if watching sports on TV can be categorized as superfluous, how much more so is the televised analysis afterward? It begs the question: How much sports are enough?

Some fans know more about professional athletes’ game statistics than they do about their own household budgets. Newsflash: you’re own life is more important than anything happening in your favorite sports stars careers!

At what point do we realize that watching and embellishing the performance of others on the field isn’t really helping us get to where we need to be in our own lives and careers?

A Pill for Whatever Ails Us

It seems there’s magic pill to cure diseases and ailments we never knew existed. And they’re all over TV. Though one would think pharmaceutical manufacturers would target doctors directly, but instead they’re getting out in front of the general public to get the demand-pull going. Brilliant strategy, don’t you think?

There are a number of unholy ways this is costing us unnecessary money:

  • Getting a prescription will add another line item to our budgets. Most are ongoing drug therapies, not temporary fixes. That’s scary.
  • If everything can be cured by a miracle drug, we might start thinking that we don’t need to take care of ourselves through more rigorous (and probably more effective) efforts at diet and exercise.
  • If the medications don’t work or don’t work fully, we’ve wasted money.
  • At some point we come to look at the healthcare industry as a false God, making assumptions about what it can do, rather than seeing the reality of its limits. I think this is one of the reasons that we have a healthcare crisis in this country. Expectations and reality parted company long ago.

The level of healthcare advertising that saturates TV today is showing us to be a very sick society indeed. Only the sickness might be more psychological and emotional than physical.

Infomercials and Get Rich (or Pumped, or Skinny, or Healthy) Quick!

We’ve all seen them, the 30 minute ads telling us how to be richer, thinner, more ripped, a master chef in the kitchen, free from pain—no need to worry about our problems, infomercial marketers have it all figured out for us.

Infomercials can drain us in a number of ways, the cost of a deficient gadget or failed program being only the most obvious. We can waste time believing the hype when we should be looking for real world solutions, or time trying to work at a get-rich-quick scheme that was never viable from the start.

The money in infomercials is in producing infomercials. Until we come up with a good idea for one, we’re best to ignore them.

Televangelists and Dial-a-Miracle

I’m a Bible-believing Christian, but I’m appalled at some of the “Christian programming” on TV. Christianity was founded by itinerant preachers spreading the word from one community to the next. They typically relied on the charity of the faithful for earthly support. TV has mostly mechanized the process.

Unfortunately, many TV preachers put on a dog-and-pony show, deteriorating to the point that they’re calling down miracles from heaven on viewer call-ins, or promising a ten-fold financial windfall from God for “giving to this ministry”.

People who suffer from chronic illnesses and crippling disabilities, or are in dire financial straits can easily succumb to this. After all, who hasn’t needed a miracle in difficult circumstances?

I believe in miracles. But I don’t accept that they can be called down from Heaven by someone shaking a Bible on TV. But TV can make people look larger than life. Defenses and rational thought melt.

When a man becomes more important than the message he preaches, there’s a real danger of a false profit — I mean prophet — actually I mean both. Save your money for the collection basket at church, where the real work in the field is being done.

Let’s Make a Star

I’ll be the first to admit that American Idol, and many of its spin-off and me-too incantations, put together an entertaining package. The idea of a complete unknown coming out of the hinterlands to become the next big star is an inspiration to us all. Who hasn’t been moved by the Susan Boyle story?

The appeal of these shows rests with the ever-popular theme of overnight success. While conceding that it can actually happen and even does occasionally, it’s the true exception and not the rule. Watch enough of these shows however, and you might actually begin to believe that this is how success happens.

It’s the TV corollary to buying a lottery ticket. It’s the impossible dream.

For most of us, success will only come from consistent effort applied over a long period of time. The idea of overnight success, while certainly appealing, can be a distraction at best, and counterproductive at worst. If you’re trying to establish yourself in a career or business venture, or building up savings or working a debt reduction plan, this fantasy stuff can make you start believing that luck is the driving force in success.

Cops, Cops and More Cops

When I was growing up we watched crime dramas about bank robbers, smugglers, counterfeiters and the occasional murderer. Today, TV cops chase serial murderers, psycho rapists, terrorists and the worst elements of society.

I’m not denying that such types exist in the world, but why celebrate such mayhem by immersing ourselves in programs revolving around it? Morbid curiosity is the best I can come up with, but nothing good can come of that.

We can say that it’s just entertainment, but I believe the plethora of cop shows is contributing to a lack of trust in people. They can give us a dim view of humanity and if we’re going to accomplish anything in life worth achieving, we need to embrace life and the people in it.

While we might see cop shows as the triumph of justice, what we’re really being fed is a torrent of the worst in humanity.

How can that possibly help us with anything?

The Six-O’clock Nightmare

Cop shows and the six-o’clock news are two sides to the same coin. There’s a saying in the news world, “if it bleeds, it leads”. This is especially obvious with local news programs. After all, they rarely have stories that can compete with the national network news.

That means that they need to rely on a steady fare of murder and mayhem to attract even local viewers. They can attract them for all the same reasons that cop shows do.

But news is just reality, isn’t it? Well, sort of…it’s reality with a spin. Reality with a heavy emphasis on the dark side. Reality for entertainment purposes.

But here’s the really bad part: It influences our world view and even the way we spend money.

In reaction to the deterioration we see on the news, we might be tempted to spend money on security systems, firearms and homes in gated “communities” (costly neighborhoods we go to – ironically – to escape community!).

It can also affect our political preferences. One of the most popular political platforms today is the “get tough on crime” agenda. A politician stands up and declares his or her hatred of crime (as if that’s remarkable), and pledges to wipe it out.

This is part of the reason why the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the free world (as in, 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of its prisoners).

That’s an “honor” no country should be proud to own. But in the Land of the Free, enough is never enough when it comes to getting tougher laws, more prisons, and more people to fill them. No one even questions if it’s the right thing to do. We just accept is as being as right and natural as air and water.

But have you noticed that no matter how many laws are passed, how many prisons are built and how many people are imprisoned, that the crime situation never gets better? Somewhere I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result.

Yeah, that sounds like the situation, doesn’t it? And the TV news has a big, fat, ugly hand in that outcome.

But understand this…no matter how tough we get on crime, we won’t put an end to it. What we’ll really accomplish is reducing our own freedoms at our own request. After all, the bad guys don’t pay attention to laws. They only serve to restrict the law-abiding.

But the steady diet of cops and the six o’clock nightmare has succeeded masterfully in moving us into this vortex of insanity. And it’s even convincing us that we’re going there willingly.

I’m not trying to be naïve, but if the world were as dark and dangerous a place as cop shows and news programs would have us believe, we wouldn’t be able to walk the streets, commute to work, go to the grocery store, send our kids to school or even sleep in our beds at night.

Just as we need to be careful what we feed our bodies, we must also use caution in what we allow into our minds. TV sells us, influences us, and makes us feel insecure about ourselves and the world. It ultimately changes our behavior and even our spending habits while it does.

That’s what TV really costs us.

Thoughts? Observations? Comments? Have you ever thought about TV this way?

( Photo by rickremington )

18 Responses to What TV REALLY Costs Us

  1. This post really puts it in perspective about how much garbage we put into our minds. The call to renew our minds is clear from Scripture and yet we (I’m guilty here too) put so much of this in front of us.

    Great job painting the overall landscape and mentioning the potential dangers that TV can have on us!

  2. Perhaps one of the largest costs of TV is the dissatisfaction that it creates in our lives. “As seen on TV.” Whether it’s a beat up car, bad looks, foul odor or out of date clothes, TV advertising tells us our lives aren’t as good as they could be, and television shows reinforce American popular culture that requires us to consume and stay updated with the latest gadget, product, pill and service.

    It is this level of dissatisfaction that I believe has the greatest influence on our personal finances because it’s blatant in the ads and a clear current in the rest of the programming. The message is clear that new and popular is front and center. Anything else just doesn’t make the tube.

    I haven’t watched TV, listened to the radio or read a newspaper in more than 10 years, and my life is much better for it. No one is telling me that my life isn’t current or correct. My level of satisfaction is right where it needs to be – consistent with my beliefs and values, not the values that is shoveled our way each day in the mainstream media.

    Clair Schwan

  3. Jason – So true! I think that we passively accept the trash into our minds without giving it a second thought. This is a testament to how successful TV is as a medium.

    Clair – Manufacturing insecurity and discontent is what TV does best, then it can sell into the confusion. The only way to deal with that is what you’ve done in not watching any more.

  4. Great point. TV is a time waster. Someone called it ‘chewing gum for your brain.’ I agree that it robs us of too many more important things..developing ourselves and relationships. Good post!

  5. Actually, drug companies may target consumers through TV ads, but they target doctors with their pharmaceutical representatives:

    http://blog.mrmedsaver.com/2009/03/some-doctors-dont-mind-being.html

    A quote pulled from the above post: “Just as many people will vote for political candidates based on name recognition, doctors are much more likely to prescribe certain drugs just because they frequently hear the names of these medications.”

  6. Christina – That’s an excellent point. The drug companies are probably going direct to the consumer so that we’ll ask the doctors for the advertised meds. That’s one way of the drug companies making sure the doctors hear about the drugs the pharmaceutical companies are selling.

  7. I truly believe the amount of time is correct. My husband is an example of watching so much TV, it drives me bonkers.

    With no TVs, beautiful architecture was built. It’s a shame so much TV is watched <–but we are information junkies by nature (nature, you think?).

    “Curiosity killed the cat”

  8. “With no TVs, beautiful architecture was built.”–That’s almost poetic but so true. With no TV’s, fulfilling lives can be built!

    We complain to anyone who will listen that we’re too busy and have no time, yet on average we have 35+ hours per week to watch TV. Imagine what could be accomplished with all of that time???

  9. I rarely watch TV. it’s mostly all garbage… chewing gum for the mind.

  10. Hi Kevin. I loved that line too “With no TV’s, beautiful architecture was built.” Let’s add to that, books written, music made, degrees earned, meals cooked. Not as poetic, but point made. Just the other day I asked my husband if he was permitted to watch much TV when he was young, having been raised in a very strict family, loving stay at home mom, marine father. He responded with a loud “no.” After school was chores and homework, then dinner, and clean up for bed. He was allowed to watch Green Acres but not Petticoat Junction…that latter being a bit too free-thinking, but also because that was going past bedtime. Hawaii Five-0…definitely not. Laughable by today’s standards, but as an adult, I can see the benefits. The man works harder and produces more than I’ve ever seen. He hates to sit and waste time. He will watch some golf and some movies now that he’s a bit older, but TV…we watch none of it, other than very newsworthy events, like Houston right now, but nothing else. It truly is the greatest time-waster. He also does very minimal internet…only if he wants to research something.

  11. Hi Bev – Interesting story about your husband. It sounds strict, but I think his parents were on to something. My background is different. We watched a lot of TV in our house. Even had a TV in the kitchen at dinner. My mom was and is a TV junkie. And yes, I even watched Petticoat Junction;-) But as I got older, I began to see it as a waste of time. I even get antsy watching it, and keep it to a minimum.

    Believe it or not, the shows I like to watch are the Hallmark movies, but especially at Christmas. They have a common theme, but one I never get tired of. A lost soul, usually a woman, packs up and leaves the big city and her big city job, and lands – often unintentionally – in a rural hamlet, which is often in New England. Ultimately she finds love. But in the interim, she also finds herself strangely content in the small town, and usually starts a business of some sort. There’s usually a spiritual angle as well, something that’s verboten in the mainstream media these days (interesting how professions of faith are now seen as “radical”, but I digress).

    I find the small town/entrepreneur/believing in God/finding happiness theme to be reassuring, perhaps more than entertaining. Inspirational is a better word. I actually think it’s harder for Hollywood to produce that kind of content than to come up with the sex, crime, murder and reality stuff they’re addicted to. Or the eternal remakes/sequels of previous movies (Wonder Woman 7, Rocky 18, Halloween 137, Batman vs. King Kong, etc.).

    I suppose that for me, if it isn’t inspirational, I’m not really interested. And I certainly don’t like being manipulated/indoctrinated when all I want is to be entertained.

  12. I agree. I think overall we’re watching too much TV (and cat videos on the Internet–it’s all the same time-sucking activity). I used to do one TV-free day each week and it was so much fun. I particularly loved that I had to come up with new ways to stay entertained, which usually meant cooking, cleaning, or doing other things that needed to be done. It was nice. 🙂 Isn’t it funny how much time we suddenly have when we remove the things that waste it?

  13. I think that going cold turkey on TV is harder for some than others. I can do it on any day of the week (and usually do). But for some people it’s an escape hatch, and they have to turn to it. But you make an excellent point about all that you can do when you remove a major time waster from your schedule. It always puzzles me when I hear major TV watchers complaining about money. If they’d turn off their TV, they’d have time to think about what they can do to make more money. Not to mention they’d be removing something from their lives that’s relentlessly convincing them that they need to spend money.

  14. I must be using my TV in a different way. Ever since I can’t find a nice stereo setup for listening to radio and music because no one listens to music without wearing a headset instead of having the sound heard in a tone that doesn’t blow out your eardrums, I use the TV mostly as a background noise to do other things except for certain shows which I actually watch.
    Yes non-stop viewing is mindless especially when you have commercials shouting at you ( ever notice that commercials are always louder than show).
    Most shows I watch I DVR for a latter viewing except GOT, I had to watch that live. But if I don’t have to watch the TV, I won’t be bored, which I can say with certainty as I had a period of time when cable and internet services went down in area. I didn’t need the TV or the internet to keep occupied.

  15. Hi Maria – We’ve noticed that the higher channels (800s and 900s) offer any type of music that you want, and a whole bunch we’ve never heard of. I think that’s a great and forgotten way to use TV. Of late we’ve been watching a lot of shows on Netflix, so we can watch a whole season, rather than having it spaced over months. Plus we avoid commercials and that saves time.

    Interesting point about the commercials being louder than the show. This is actually a thing, and it’s referred to as the “just noticeable difference”. The TV programmers set the commercials 9.9% higher than the regular show, to get the viewer’s attention. So when it seems as if the commercials are shouting at you, they actually are. I think some are higher than 9.9% louder, at least in recent years. It’s more evidence that TV is really about the commercials, not the programs. We’ve taken to muting the commercials when they come on, and have conversation instead.

  16. We went on a different track in raising our two daughters – instead of plopping them in front of the TV, we played with them and read to them! Wow, what a concept! We had to laugh at these notices at the YMCA – make sure your kid has no more than 2 hours of screen time a day. Of course, now that they are older (11 and 8), we are letting them watch a few more things, but still much less than other kids. We also don’t have the top of the line smart phones. Yesterday, I even saw a mom pushing a phone into the hands of a kid that couldn’t have been older than 1 1/2. What are these kids going to be like if they reach 80-90 years old??
    Bottom line – it’s just lazy parenting to push TV/devices into your kid’s hands – it can be done with a little bit of effort. If my daughters choose to get absorbed in that stuff in the future, it is their choice, but I hope that they will at least remember the quiet times/game time/outdoor time that we had when they grew up.

  17. Hi Kevin – We did something of a hybrid with our two kids. Instead of keeping them from TV entirely, we let them watch it, but made sure we had plenty of other activities. It could have been swimming at the pool, playing in the park, getting together with friends, or going out at night for a variety of activities. Needless to say, they enjoyed the activities more than TV.

    Now as young adults, neither of them watch much TV. In fact, I’d say they watch specific movies more than TV itself. Of course in that regard we’re helped by the fact that there are so few good shows on that deciding not to watch TV is pretty easy. But I see a lot of other kids and adults who seem to be glued to that same deficient programming. I guess it all depends on your preferences and chosen alternatives.

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