Consuming all the content

In a tongue-in-cheek talk, Peter Rojas argues that mainstream media companies (particularly those beloved, SOPA-backing ones) could disappear today and leave humanity plenty of content to happily consume for the rest of our days.

That claim made me curious about a broader question: Is there now more content in existence than can be consumed? (This is the media correlate to the widely-circulated myth that the living world population is greater than the total number of humans who have ever lived.)

How much consumption time is there? To simplify, let’s look at the average US adult, who spends 4.91 hours on weekdays and 6.59 hours on weekend days on “leisure and relaxation,” a category which includes playing sports and watching TV but excludes eating and errands. With an adult population of 206 million, this translates into roughly 40 billion hours of content consumption per year in the US alone.

And how long is all the content? Let’s use Peter’s numbers, which seem sane based on some cursory research, with a few caveats: First, exclude YouTube, because the majority of content there is either not from mainstream outlets, or is a duplication or clip from TV or film, which doesn’t need to be watched twice. Secondly, take Google’s number for books (which, as an aside, should be noted to include many academic, technical, or otherwise totally non-narrative works which should probably be excluded): 130 million. We’ll be generous and say that episodic TV is mean 1 hour long, books take mean 10 hours to consume, and films are mean 1.5 hours long. Combining all episodic television, feature films, and books, regardless of language, there are just over 1.3 billion hours of recorded mass market content produced by humanity.

To consume all the extant mainstream media in the world, we would thus only need one year’s leisure time from 663,446 Americans, or about the whole population of El Paso. To be even less demanding, and only require their time spent consuming TV (and hey, they’re going to get to watch some TV too!) we need 3,392,907 people, or a little less than the population of Los Angeles, to consume all the world’s content in a year.

Any volunteers?