Nearly half of U.S. homes now have DVRs or other TV time-shifting capabilities -- video on demand, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon TV, for example. More than ever, we are living in the moment... and we get to control when that moment is.
TV and cable networks and ad and media agencies have been trying to deal with the changes in viewing habits that time-shifting is causing. Back a bit more than ten years ago, it was pretty simple to come up with viewership for programs, and thus the ad rates, by relying on Nielsen for ratings. But with the growing availability and popularity of DVRs, as standalone units like TiVo or as part of the home cable package, the media folks had to figure out a better way to measure audience. They first used numbers based on live viewing plus the estimate of time-shifted viewing over the following three days. More recently, it's been live plus 7, reflecting real viewing habits of the majority of us.
The numbers through time-shifting can be significant. A story in Medialife this week reports that the five broadcast networks averaged an additional 1,565,000 viewers when seven-day time-shifting is factored in. For 60 of the more popular shows, time-shifted viewing added 50 percent or more to the total audience. In these days when a modest hit show claims perhaps 4 or 5 million viewers, an additional 1.5 million makes a difference, especially when the nets set their ad rates.
For the mega-hit shows, the time-shifting can come close to doubling the audience. NBC's "The Blacklist" averaged 10.8 million viewers, and another 6.1 million watched the show at their own convenience over the next seven days of the initial airing. ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" gets 8.5 million watching the live airing and another 3.9 million via time-shifting.
Time-shifting is at fairly consistent levels across the age groups, with 33 percent of adults 50+ watching by DVR or video on demand, 38 percent of adults 18 - 49 and 36 percent of teens.
For advertisers, time-shifting presents problems. Many time-shifters with DVRs zip past those costly ads. Video on demand often prevents fast-forwarding, although some nets run fewer and different ads or network promos on VOD.
The "who's actually watching the ads" question is more critical now, with all the viewing options. But even back in the days when we had only three networks, that question was probably a valid one as soon as remote controls became available. And, remote or not, many take a snack or bathroom break during the ads, which then play to an empty room... or maybe just the dog.