The broadcast network PR machines have been talking to Bill Carter at the NY Times again, and after his article today on how broadcasters love DVRs, I can guarantee massive confusion will ripple across the TV press (not to mention some segments of TV fandom) about the effects of DVR viewing on TV shows.

Two years ago, in a seismic change from past practice, Nielsen started measuring television consumption by the so-called commercial-plus-three ratings, which measure viewing for the commercials in shows that are watched either live or played back on digital video recorders within three days. This replaced the use of program ratings.

At the time, network executives fiercely resisted the change, fearing that they would never get credit for recorded shows because viewers would skip through all the commercials. But the figures show otherwise.

“It’s completely counterintuitive,” said Alan Wurtzel, the president of research for NBC. “But when the facts come in, there they are.”

Almost across the board, the gains for playback are growing. The best preseason estimate for the current season, said David F. Poltrack, the chief research officer for CBS, was about a 1 percent increase from playback over the live program for the networks combined. Instead, many are in the range of 7 to 12 percent, with some shows having increases of more than 20 percent when DVR ratings are added. The four networks together are averaging a 10 percent increase.

That’s correct as far as it goes. The problem is you probably haven’t seen a number for LIVE program viewing or ratings in the NY Times or anywhere else for more than two years*.

Pretty much all the “next day” ratings you’ve seen in the press since the fall of 2007 have been LIVE+SD (Same Day) ratings which measures live viewing plus DVR viewing through 3am the next day. No mention of that by Carter. And that’s what’s going to confuse people.

All those increases for commercial viewing touted by Carter (via broadcast PR flacks) are all vs. LIVE viewing, not vs. LIVE+SD viewing.

Everyone is used to program ratings increases from “DVR viewing” being defined as the increase from Live+SD program ratings (which is available the day after a show airs) to Live+7 day program ratings (available about two weeks after a show airs), so people will point to this article by Carter and claim “See that increase from DVR viewing really *does* boost commercial viewing, it must be helping my show!” Sadly, that’s mostly wrong.

In fact there is almost no increase in commercial ratings after the Live+SD period.

In a recent conversation with a researcher at a broadcast network, I asked him “Given the fact that the public (and us) sees only Live+SD and Live+7 program ratings on a regular basis, how much of the increase between those two numbers could be assumed to benefit C+3 commercial ratings?”

His answer? 10%

So that 40% increase in program ratings from Live+SD to Live+7 for Dollhouse? It helped advertising revenue by 4%.

Not exactly time to break out the champagne.

Don’t be confused that additional DVR viewing beyond the Live+SD period is going to be a big help to your show, because it isn’t.

*Except perhaps our posts prior to this season specifically on DVR viewing where we did include LIVE ratings.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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