Carbon Footprint of a TV Station's Viewers

The search for data about TV stations' energy consumption elicited a comment from an industry colleague that it is "miniscule" compared to that of the station's viewers. How would we go about calculating the impact of a local station audience?

As in all these "footprint" calculations, we have to make some assumptions.

Station's market size - ~50% of USA households are covered by the top 25 markets, so let's use the size of market 25, ~1.1 million households, as a midpoint.

Station's reach - let's use 10 GRPs for a decent prime-time rating in today's fragmented media market.

Energy consumption of a viewer's gear - let's use an average of 150 watts, about what a 36" LCD display plus cable/satellite/DTV box would consume.

1,100,000 HH x 10% rating x 150W/HH = 16.5 megawatt load for a this station's primetime audience. This would generate ~5 metric tons of CO2 during the course of a 30 minute program, depending on that market's electricity generation sources. And all this for only a penny a household!

Different assumptions will yield different results: most stations do not pull 10 GRPs most hours that they transmit, most of the ~185 markets covering the remaining 50% of USA households are much smaller, and our home media gear increasingly demands more power (large plasma displays, DVRs, etc.). But no matter how we slice it, my colleague has a point.

Still, we shouldn't shy away from confronting our own footprints because those of others are likely worse. Responsible media industry practitioners have a legitimate interest in understanding and acting on the energy/resource/carbon footprints of their facilities, workflows, and value chains to improve operating efficiency and to meet growing stakeholder expectations.


(I used 1.3Kg of CO2/KWH and $0.114/KWH in these calculations.)