American Idol more 'DVR Proof' than Reuters would have you believe

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December 18th, 2008

Reuters recently published a story on some Nielsen DVR data that showed that American Idol was the most watched show via DVRs.

An extra four million viewers watched the Fox network's "American Idol" in the seven days following the initial episodes, which aired two nights each week. The numbers belie the notion that live competition and topical programs are what advertisers call "digital video recorder (DVR) proof".

This is one of the many reasons I love blogging. What Reuters wrote is both entirely true, and yet still misleading at the same time.

It isn't surprising that the most watched program on television winds up the most watched on DVR. The numbers do somewhat belie the notion that live competition shows are DVR proof. But what Reuters doesn't tell you is that relatively speaking they are still relatively "DVR proof". The details are important here.

One aspect of American Idol's DVR viewing I find interesting is that more than any other show almost all of the DVR viewing happens the night the show. Usually nearly 80% of Idol's DVR viewing happens the same night the show aired. This suggests heavily that Idol fans want to be able to talk about the show at the water cooler the next day, but use the DVR for time compression, fast-forwarding through commercials or getting to the parts they want to watch.

The American Idol finale ran late last May and the final competition (Tuesday show) was the most DVR'd show that week. That airing actually had 900,000+ more DVR viewers than the actual finale on Wednesday. But here's the curious thing, more people (a lot more) watched the finale on Wednesday, and less people DVR'd the finale. Despite the huge numbers for Idol's final week, DVR viewing only increased over live viewing by 20% for the Tuesday show and by a mere 13.4% for the Wednesday finale.

By contrast Grey's Anatomy and House, which both also aired season finales that week showed increases of 25.1% and 27.4% respectively. Moreover, far fewer viewed the Grey's and House finales the night they actually aired than Idol. Both Idol airings that week had more than 77% of the DVR viewing the same night the show aired, while only 47% of the Grey's Anatomy finale DVR viewers watched the same night the show aired, and only 42% watched the House finale the same night.

You can examine the details closely yourself, but my conclusion is that although a show like Idol certainly isn't "DVR proof" it is noticeably more "DVR proof" than its scripted counterparts, and the numbers to me don't belie that notion at all.

One other interesting note from the Reuters story is that fan favorite Battlestar Galactica had the highest increases over live viewing than any other show on cable (53% ratings increase with Live+7 factored in). Sadly, this points to one of the reasons we stopped doing the DVR report for cable viewing - we simply don't get enough data. We only see the DVR data for the top 40 cable shows, and if a show like BSG had even 2 million "live" viewers (which could have put it over 2 million in live plus SD viewing) a 53% increase over live still wouldn't have gotten it into the top 40 data we saw, even though it might have been the most DVR'd program on cable for the week. Hopefully one of those days we'll see some more granular data.

Bill and I both watch BSG - though for me it's basically the cable version of Heroes - a show that started out good, then went awry that I masochistically stuck with anyway. But we both enjoy Burn Notice too, and according to the Reuters story, that had the second highest ratings increases on cable due to DVR viewing with 37 percent.

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