American Idol, Grey's Anatomy and House Lead DVR Viewing during "Finale Week"

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June 9th, 2008

When it comes to the shows with the most DVR viewing on broadcast networks, Nielsen has a significant delay in the normal production which is why I'm posting about the live plus seven days worth of DVR viewer numbers for the week ending May 25, 2008 on June 9.

Many season finales are on the list and none of the episodes on the list were repeats. If all the reports on upfront advertising sales are correct (flat or a little bit better than last year for most networks not named The CW) I'm led to conclude a couple of things:

  1. There's not much difference between the C+3 (live commercial viewing plus three day DVR measurements which we don't see, that advertising is allegedly bought and sold based on) and LIVE program viewing LIVE+7, or in other words if we had viewer numbers for live plus three days commercial viewing (C+3) they wouldn't be greatly different than the LIVE live plus seven program numbers which we do see. Update: Here are the comparisons from a single week [all we've seen] last Fall. And we drilled down a bit further on one show for that week to see that, as you might expect, effectively nobody watches commercials on DVR playback.
  2. The networks have convinced the advertisers that even on the DVR, eyeballs are eyeballs

The first conclusion above makes sense to me, that most of the DVR viewing would happen in the first three days. The second conclusion however is a bit of a stretch for me to buy. The pentultimate episode of the American Idol season had nearly 5 million DVR viewers. Almost 80% (77.9%) watched the show via DVR the same night it aired. There were less DVR viewers for the finale (though still over 4 million) but the percentage who watched the same night were very similar.

This leads me to believe in the case of American Idol most of the DVR viewing is purely time-shifting and mostly for one reason: to eliminate the time spent not only watching the commercials, but parts of the show they aren't interested in. Consider this: just the portion of American Idol's audience who watches on DVR is a larger audience typically than ANY show on the CW's TOTAL audience. It's a lot of people fast-forwarding through commercials.

Also, the numbers for some shows are big and getting bigger. The finale of Grey's Anatomy had over 4 million viewers on just via DVR and less than 50% watched the same night so DVR boosted viewing of Grey's from 18.092mm live plus same day DVR usage (the most oft-reported metric) to 20.259mm viewers live plus seven day DVR viewing. That means well over 2 million people watched the show later in the week and gets Grey's total viewing back up over 20 million.

I expect the Nielsen DVR panel to grow for the 2008-2009 season and for DVR viewing to expand next year. For now, it seems, if we can believe the numbers, that the advertisers are giving the networks a pass on DVR viewing and not complaining much. It's good news for show producers, Shonda Rhimes can say, "Hey ABC, we still have 20 million loyal viewers!" It appears the sales teams can sell this DVR usage, but when it grows even further I wonder how it will shake out.

Top 20 DVR Viewed Broadcast Shows for the week ending May 25, 2008:


Rank Show Net Live+7 (000) Live (000) DVR Viewers (000) % increase from live Live+SD (000) % SD
1 AMERICAN IDOL-TUESDAY FOX 28109 23,364 4,745 20.3% 27,061 77.91%
2 GREY'S ANATOMY-THU 9PM ABC 20259 16,195 4,064 25.1% 18,092 46.68%
3 HOUSE-MON 9P FOX 18695 14,677 4,018 27.4% 16,358 41.84%
4 AMERICAN IDOL-WEDNESDAY FOX 32536 28,699 3,837 13.4% 31,661 77.20%
5 CSI: MIAMI CBS 18050 15,655 2,395 15.3% 16,265 25.47%
6 NCIS CBS 17836 15,491 2,345 15.1% 16,524 44.05%
7 BONES-MON 8P FOX 11368 9,075 2,293 25.3% 10,302 53.51%
8 CRIMINAL MINDS CBS 14521 12,264 2,257 18.4% 13,153 39.39%
9 TWO AND A HALF MEN CBS 15630 13,619 2,011 14.8% 14,700 53.75%
10 HELL'S KITCHEN FOX 12246 10,326 1,920 18.6% 11,441 58.07%
11 SO YOU THINK CN DANCE-THU FOX 9697 7,935 1,762 22.2% 8,739 45.63%
12 CSI: NY CBS 13062 11,440 1,622 14.2% 11,830 24.04%
13 DANCING WITH THE STARS ABC 19795 18,225 1,570 8.6% 19,223 63.57%
14 UGLY BETTY ABC 9622 8,054 1,568 19.5% 8,753 44.58%
15 SHARK CBS 11374 9,858 1,516 15.4% 10,271 27.24%
16 HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER CBS 8678 7,188 1,490 20.7% 7,986 53.56%
17 DANCING W/STARS RESULTS ABC 20662 19,285 1,377 7.1% 20,122 60.78%
18 BIG BANG THEORY, THE CBS 8007 6,759 1,248 18.5% 7,344 46.88%
19 BOSTON LEGAL ABC 7231 5,984 1,247 20.8% 6,466 38.65%
20 LAW AND ORDER NBC 9531 8,291 1,240 15.0% 8,573 22.74%

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 Nielsen Media Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This table ranks the broadcast network shows most viewed via DVR over the course of the week. Please note these DVR tables are the only place at all where "live" viewing is reported and that almost all of our daily and weekly reports are based on live plus same day (the show aired) DVR viewing. We use the live number only to arrive at total DVR viewing, and some of that viewing is baked in to our normal live plus same day DVR usage reported. I've also listed the % of DVR viewing that happens on the same day the shows aired.

  • LIVE = live viewing
  • LIVE+7= live plus seven day DVR viewing
  • LIVE+SD = live plus DVR viewing occurring the same night the show aired
  • %increase = the percentage of audience increase above live viewing
  • %SD = the percentage of total DVR viewing that occurred the same night the show aired
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