Have you ever sat down to catch up on the latest show, or rewatch your go-to "feel-good" sitcom at the end of a long day? If so, the odds are you've probably gotten "hooked" before realizing you're in the middle of a full-on binge.

In fact, there's a science behind how one episode turns into two or three – the same science helping you nearly finish a season in one sitting without registering it.

Even if your screen goes blank and asks "Are you still watching?" from time to time, you probably have a rough idea of how many hours you've spent watching the newest season of your favorite sitcom, but do you realize how much data you're streaming in the process? We looked at some of the most popular TV shows today and how much data it would take to watch them on your tablet or smart device (including in 4K), as well as how much time it would take if you wanted to start from the beginning and power through to the end. Read on to see what we discovered.

Putting Your Data to Work

A single episode of most shows today is either 30 to 60 minutes in length. If you wanted to get an episode in on your lunch break or your daily commute, do you know how much of your data package you'd be using?

Well, the answer depends on the quality you'd prefer to see it in. The display on some devices (including potentially your next smartphone) can support up to 4K, but it could cost you twice as much data to stream in such high resolution. Good old-fashioned standard definition (roughly 720 active pixels) would cost less than a full gigabyte of data. Bump that resolution up to high definition (1,280 active pixels), and you might end up using 2.5 gigabytes of data for just one episode of your favorite show. Full-blown 4K? With at least 8 million active pixels, you'd use nearly six gigabytes of data to stream just one hour of media.

So if you had a 50-gigabyte data package, how far could it take you? In high definition, you'd get roughly 20 hours of streaming before having to worry about running out, but only eight hours if you felt compelled to watch in 4K.

Shows That Will Hog Your Data Package

So what does all of that mean for your favorite TV shows? Well, that depends on what you like to watch and how long that show has been running.

In 2019, "The Simpsons" will become the longest-running television show in history. The current No. 1 spot – a show you probably haven't heard of (it was called "Gunsmoke") – ran for 635 episodes. At 29 seasons strong, running through the entire "Simpsons" catalog would cost you over 160 gigabytes of data in standard definition and more than 572 in high definition. "The Simpsons" may have more years under its belt than any other series you could stream, but with only 22-minute episodes (on average), it isn't the longest.

At 18 seasons and 400 episodes, "Law & Order: SVU" takes the digital cake regarding how much data you'd need to get through the entire season. With nearly 262 gigabytes of data in standard definition and more than 935 in high definition, you might have to take out a loan against your own data package to get through it. Of course, if you're hoping to see that fabled President Donald Trump episode – don't hold your breath. It'll probably never make the cut.

Other shows that might burn through your monthly data package before you know it? "NCIS," "Supernatural," and "Grey's Anatomy" – all at over 140 gigabytes of data (standard definition) each.

A Digital Marathon

If you've seen every episode of some of the most popular TV shows since their first airing, you might not realize how much time you've actually spent watching them. We broke down how many 8-hour workdays it would take if you wanted to start these shows from the beginning and watch through to the end.

"Law & Order: SVU" would take the longest, by far, at nearly 47 full days of work. That's more than six and a half weeks and roughly 376 hours total. It's hard to tell how many times you might see the "Are you still watching?" notification if you tried to make it through the entire season, but these Netflix socks might come in handy, so you don't accidentally miss something good when you fall asleep or suddenly wake up to a spoiler.

"The Simpsons" would take almost 29 full workdays to get through (but you probably wouldn't want to emulate Homer's work ethic if you're serious about it), and "Grey's Anatomy" would take almost 26 days.

You may have heard that "Game of Thrones" could be off the air for an entire year before it comes back just to go off for good. If you find yourself in need of a taste of Westeros between now and then, the shows' seven seasons would only take just over nine workdays to watch from the beginning to the end. That could be a "staycation" worth investing in.

Real-Time Investments

If you're ever watching your favorite shows live – you might expect them to be the full 30 minutes or hour that you're used to. In reality, once you take the commercials and advertisements out of the equation, each show has its own average runtime, and almost no two are alike.

Some shows like "NCIS" and "Law & Order: SVU" make full use of their one-hour block of time. An average episode of "NCIS" runs for just over 56 minutes, while "SVU" takes up nearly 55 minutes. Depending on which season you're watching, a single episode of "Lost" may feel like a lifetime, but in reality, each episode runs for only an average of 44.3 minutes.

Fan favorites you can sneak in if you've got less than 30 minutes to spare? An episode of "The Big Bang Theory" will only cost you 20 minutes, while episodes of "That '70s Show" and "Friends" run for exactly 22 minutes on average.

Our analysis found cable channels can sometimes afford to be more flexible with their programming than network shows, with an episode of the BBC's "Sherlock" running for over 88 minutes on average – almost the length of a full-length feature film.

Big Streamers

Feel like certain networks tend to put out some of your favorite shows? Well, they might also be eating up your data packages if you're streaming them regularly.

The CBS network could be the biggest data thief of all, costing viewers nearly 585 gigabytes to stream a full season of their shows on average. With classics like "NCIS," "The Big Bang Theory," and "How I Met Your Mother," it might be worth the splurge.

Shows running on The CW averaged over 452 gigabytes of data per season, followed by 337 gigabytes for shows on NBC and 295 gigabytes for HBO. If you're looking to conserve your data plan, shows on Starz and Syfy averaged under 40 gigabytes each per season.

See for Yourself

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Using our interactive tool, find out just how many minutes, hours, days, and even months you've spent watching some of the most iconic TV shows of all time. You'll even be able to tell how many gigabytes of data a new show might cost you if you're thinking about streaming something you haven't seen yet.


We pulled a list of shows using Google's "TV Shows Most Frequently on the Web" as of July 27, 2017, omitting any Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu-exclusive shows. We then pulled runtimes, season, and episode counts from IMDb. Using runtime data, we calculated approximate data usage amounts using AT&T's Internet Data Calculator.


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