Typing Faster

November 3, 2009

PVRs Aren’t Killing the Television Star

Filed under: Marketing, NBC, Stuff I Like, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 5:00 am

A lot of the people think PVRs are responsible for the apocalyptic cloud the television biz has been working under lately. If people can record shows and easily skip the commericals then that’s what they’re going to do.

Yeah. Maybe not so much.

Against almost every expectation, nearly half of all people watching delayed shows are still slouching on their couches watching messages about movies, cars and beer. According to Nielsen, 46 percent of viewers 18 to 49 years old for all four networks taken together are watching the commercials during playback, up slightly from last year.

When you add the fact that people are actually watching commercials on their PVR’d shows, and the fact that PVR market penetration has increased from last year (up to 33% from 28%), then all of a sudden advertising as a revenue stream is looking a heck of a lot more robust than previously thought.

Of course the question remains, why the hell are people watching commercials when they could so easily skip them?

The most basic reason, according to Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, a media buying firm, is that the behavior that has underpinned television since its invention still persists to a larger degree than expected.

“It’s still a passive activity,” he said.

PVR’s aren’t killing television because people are too lazy to press the fast forward button. Whodda thunk.

This is great news for almost all the networks. If people are actually watching the ads on PVR’d shows, then all of a sudden all those “live +3” ratings take on a whole lot more importance than bragging rights. Those extra three days actually represent millions of viewers and therefore millions of dollars more in advertising revenue.

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.

“It’s the magnitude that’s really surprising us,” Mr. Poltrack said.

In the 18-to-49 group of viewers – the one prized by networks because most ad sales are directed there – Fox has the biggest percentage increase, from an average rating of 2.39 (which translates into about 2.5 million viewers) for its live programs to a 2.71 rating (about 3.1 million viewers) when the three-day DVR playback results are added in.

The numbers for ABC were a 2.5 rating live (2.87 million viewers) to a 2.81 (3.27 million) after three days. CBS had a 2.62 live (just over three million) and a 2.79 (3.2 million) after three days. NBC had a 1.79 live (2.05 million) and a 1.91 (2.19 million) after three days.

“Nobody knew the commercial ratings would be as robust as they are,” said Mr. [Alan] Wurtzel [president of research for NBC].

No one indeed. I’m sure this is catching a lot of people by surprise. PVRs were, after all, supposed to be the death of broadcast television, not a boon to it.

Of course it hasn’t been a boon to all the networks equally. Poor, silly, short sighted NBC is still getting hosed.

NBC, has seen a significant fall-off year to year in ratings with playbacks, Mr. Wurtzel said. “The Leno effect is the reason.”

When NBC added “The Jay Leno Show” at 10 each weeknight, it boasted that the show would be “DVR proof,” meaning that because the humor was topical, viewers were more likely to watch it live, avoiding much of the commercial-skipping that was expected to plague recorded shows.

Now being “DVR proof” looks like a disadvantage. Mr. Leno’s shows were among the few with three-day commercial ratings lower than their live ratings. Not enough people have been recording the show and playing it back to overcome the commercial-skipping being done by a percentage of its live viewers.

I think I can safely speak for NBC when I say: “DOH!”

While most of the credit has to go to all those lovable lazy bastards who can’t be bothered to push a button on their remote, some credit also needs to be given to the broadcasters and advertisers themselves.

They’re becoming devious little monkeys.

The Fox series Bones has experimented with inserting into the middle of a group of commercials a segment with the show’s main characters discussing the story so far. That can induce a sudden stop in the playback.

I know I’ve been fooled by similar gambits in the past. Cheap broadcaster tricks aside though, this is great news for television.

Thank god for all the lazy bastards.

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