Doing My Part To Combat DVR Misinformation

Categories: ',New TV Technology

Written By

November 24th, 2008

This AP story on DVR viewing has been syndicated everywhere, and will likely be read by 100,000x as many people as this post will, but I'll do what I can to push back the tide of misinformation about DVRs and DVR viewing of TV shows that it includes.

Among the least time-shifted shows this fall were "Deal or No Deal," "60 Minutes" and "King of the Hill."

While 2 of those shows had low DVR viewing they were by no means the least time-shfited (perhaps lots of slack is allowed if you start your claim with "Among" as in "I am among the best golfers in San Francisco") As the table below shows, it's reasonable to include Deal or No Deal and 60 Minutes in the "among" list. Even so, the inclusion of King of the Hill in that group is a mystery, it averaged a 5.2% increase over it's live viewing and 364,000 DVR viewers. Lots of shows had fewer DVR viewers and a lower increase.

Here are the lowest shows for % increase via DVR viewing on a season to date basis through November 16, 2008:

Programs Network  Persons Most Current (000s)  Persons Live (000s)  Time-shifted Audience (000s) % increase from Live to Most Current
FOOTBALL NT AMERICA PT 3 NBC  8,799  8,726  73 0.8%
FOOTBALL NT AMERICA PT 2 NBC  4,945  4,886  59 1.2%
SAT NIGHT FTBL PRE-GAME ABC  4,970  4,909  61 1.2%
THE OT FOX  11,678  11,515  163 1.4%
SUNDAY NIGHT NFL PRE-KICK NBC  11,479  11,317  162 1.4%
NBC SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL NBC  16,731  16,442  289 1.8%
SAT NIGHT FOOTBALL ABC  7,490  7,358  132 1.8%
COPS 2 FOX  5,564  5,431  133 2.4%
DEAL OR NO DEAL-FRI NBC  5,872  5,728  144 2.5%
AMW: AMERICA FIGHTS BACK FOX  5,576  5,429  147 2.7%
48 HOURS MYSTERY CBS  7,036  6,839  197 2.9%
AMER FUNN HOME VIDEOS ABC  7,635  7,401  234 3.2%
DEAL OR NO DEAL-WED NBC  8,165  7,891  274 3.5%
LAW AND ORDER NBC  7,935  7,660  275 3.6%
60 MINUTES CBS  15,750  15,198  552 3.6%

What is "Most Current"? Most of the DVR Viewing numbers that we show on the site are either Live+SD (which includes DVR viewing the same day as broadcast and up to 3AM the following day) or Live+7 (which includes DVR viewing within 7 days of the air date). "Most Current" which is the only kind of season to date show data we get is a combination of the two. It includes Live+7 viewing for the dates where it is available (2+ weeks after the viewing date) and Live+SD for dates where Live+7 is not available.

With "The Office," time-shifting has kept alive a show that might otherwise be dead. The comedy has the week's toughest time slot, competing directly against CBS' more popular "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."

Huh? The Office is NBC's top scripted show for 18-49 adults, the idea that it has somehow been "saved" by DVR viewing is ridiculous.

The flip side is that DVRs make it harder for new shows like NBC's just-canceled "My Own Worst Enemy" to get established. Given the choice of trying something new or watching a recorded version of a favorite show, the DVR usually wins out.

No backup for this claim at all and I have never seen anything substantiating such a claim in my close watching of DVR data. What about the new shows like The Mentalist and Fringe that have managed to do just fine? Sounds like a manufactured excuse for bad programming decisions from NBC.

"The biggest single competitor to network programming in any time slot now is (pre-recorded) network programming," said David Poltrack, chief researcher at CBS.

Poltrack knows more about TV numbers in his pinky finger than I do in my entire body, but this is just PR spin. Today, fewer than 30% of US households have DVRs, but 50%+ of the US prime-time audience is watching cable. More denial of the loss of supremacy of broadcast over cable. "The competition is us!" is a lot more affirming than "The competition is those grubby little cable programmers!".

There was a time, not too long ago, when network executives slept with laptops or fax machines by their beds so they could rise before dawn to check the previous night's ratings.

Now, Ostroff said, "it's a system that's no longer relevant."

Don't believe that for a second. They still rise before dawn, because the Live viewing audience for a show correlates very closely to the C+3 commercial viewing audience they get paid for by advertisers.

The networks' weekly ratings scorecard, a traditional psychic barometer, also means less. It's based on live viewing, plus playbacks within 24 hours. One recent week the broadcast networks were down 10 percent from the previous year — an alarming sign of failure on its face — but add in a week's worth of time-shifters and the decline was only 3 percent, Poltrack said.

Asked whether the increased time-shifting helped the networks, Fox chief scheduler Preston Beckman was as ambivalent as Wurtzel.

"It's a little of both," he said. It's always encouraging that viewers watch the shows, whenever they do it. But advertising rates are calculated based on people who watch a show within three days of its original airing. So if you tape "House" on Tuesday to watch Saturday night, Fox gets nothing for it.

That weekly psychic barometer still means plenty. While it's true that there is a delay in receiving the C+3 commercial ratings that really matter, they are closely correlated to the Live program ratings (which are available the next day) in most cases.

CBS' Poltrack believes that DVR usage will continue to grow until the machines are in about half of the nation's homes with TVs. He expects the technology to become obsolete soon after that, because more people will have televisions and computers working together to give them even more freedom to program theirpersonal networks.

And while I can't really fault him because it's just a guess, I don't see any way that computer viewing of video will exceed DVR viewing anytime soon. Both are growing, and computer viewing is growing much faster, but is so tiny by comparison today that DVR viewing is likely to be more important than computer viewing for a long time.

Nielsen TV Ratings Data: ©2008 The Nielsen Company. All Rights Reserved.

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