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The Cost of Entertainment

Why we watch so much television today is a question that will have many and multi-faceted answers. But in his book Media Unlimited, Todd Giltin offers solid statistical evidence for at least one of the answers. Here is a small table outlining the cost for a general laborer to enjoy the entertainment of that day, given as a proportion of his daily wage.

18th century (theater)More than a full day’s wage
Early 19th century (theater)1/3
1840s-50sA little less than 1/3 (25¢)
1870 (minstrel, variety shows)1/6 (still 25¢)
1880s (melodrama, vaudeville)1/13 (10¢)
1910 (nickelodeon)1/40 (10¢)
1920 (movie theater)less than 1/40 (10¢)
1960s (television)1/360 (amortizing cost of $200 black-and-white set)
1998 (cable television)1/100 (amortizing cost of $300 color set plus basic cable

I guess this help explains the fact that the average American currently watches in excess of four hours per day!


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