How We Watch, Listen, and Read

Do we here at HBS tend to read more than other people? Do we spend less time watching TV? Do we spend more time online? Yes, yes, and yes.

Many of us watched the CNBC special on HBS air this past December, and got a taste for how the media portrays the school. Personally, I was lucky enough to appear on camera (ever so briefly) and will admit that it was a little bit neat to see myself on national TV – my 15 milliseconds of fame. But with all of the talk around watching the show – who had DVR’d it, who had caught it live, who was trying to find it on YouTube or Hulu or – it got me thinking about how and what students at HBS watch, listen and read.

Around exam time first semester of RC year I remember professors assuring us that, no matter how poorly we did, we were still well above average. But what about when it comes to how we consume media? Supposedly we are smarter than average, but do we read more than other people? Do we spend less time watching TV? Do we spend more time online? Yes, yes and yes.

According to Nielsen in November 2008, the average American watches 8 hours and 18 minutes of TV per day – a stunningly high number. (With over 8 hours on the couch every day, it’s amazing that so many people still have time to work, eat and sleep.) Our recent survey found that most HBS students estimated they watch less than 1 hour of TV per day. This small number of TV hours is not surprising when taking into account all of the necessary class time, case preparation, club events, speakers and recruiting activities, but it does seem to support professors assertion that students here at HBS are (be it good or bad) not average.

A Pew research poll in December 2008, however, found that TV is the most popular new source, where 70% of Americans get their national and international news. But most HBS students consider themselves well informed people and probably aren’t getting their news from the scant few hours TV they watch.

Some here at school say that “cash is king”, but it’s clear from our survey that online media is the one that rules them all. Without a doubt students are making up for at least some of the time not spent watching TV by spending time online instead. According to eMarketer US adults spend on average 15 hours online per week. But here at HBS students estimated that they spend much more time. Over 75% of students spend over 15 hours online per week – well above average. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of students reported getting their news online, with TV and printed papers distant alternatives.

Interestingly, while printed newspapers circulations have been dropping precipitously and there have been rumors that the New York Times is near the brink of bankruptcy, newspaper readership on campus remains relatively high. Over 17% of HBS students identified printed newspapers as a major source of their news. Meanwhile, some of the most popular weekday newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The New York Times, each circulate hardcopies to less than 1% of the US population.

In terms of reading books, our survey found that HBS students are right on par with the national average. A 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts found that only 59% of Americans 25-34 read books not required for work for school – precisely the number our study found. So don’t expect books to by flying off the shelf downstairs in the Coop any faster than other bookstores – HBSers generally aren’t above average bookworms.

But with everything taken into account, what struck me about the results of this quick survey is that students at HBS tend to be attracted to more active media consumption habits than the average American. It appears that most people consume media, news and entertainment, while sitting back on the couch. Over 8 hours a day.

Here at HBS, however, we tend sit forward and engage more with the media we consume – in many cases reading. Even consuming information on the internet requires at least a little bit of active searching and engagement. We read newspapers more than most, spend more time online than most – and certainly read more cases than most people.