Prior to the movie, they aired several commercials, none of which my wife or I had seen before. My son, however, seemed quite familiar with them, and commented that the last ad was one of his favorites. My mother-in-law also seemed to recognize the commercials.
It struck me that my son, as usual, is correct. We DVR and time shift much of our primetime viewing. We seldom watch commercials anymore. Maybe only during the 20% or so of the time we are watching something live – usually sports, news, award shows, or off-network series on cable or syndication (such as NCIS or Everybody Loves Raymond).
DVR penetration among adults 18-49 is about 45%. Nationally, 27% of adult 18-49 primetime viewing to the broadcast networks and 11% of viewing to ad-supported cable networks season-to-date is through DVR playback.
Simple math reveals that 60% of adult 18-49 broadcast viewing and 24% of ad-supported cable viewing in DVR homes is time-shifted. Cable is so much lower because of the high percentage of off-network series and movies, as well as reality shows. If we just looked at original scripted dramas on cable, it would actually exceed the 60% level of the broadcast average.
Is my little convenience sample even remotely accurate? In DVR homes, are the under-18 and over-70 viewers the ones watching most of the commercials on TV?
This is one of the major quandaries facing our industry right now.
How do you deal with a medium where the programming is more popular than ever, but commercial avoidance is also greater than ever – and growing? Where a high degree of DVR playback might be enough to get a moderate performing show renewed, even though most of those additional viewers are not watching the commercials?
There have been a number of studies over the past few years indicating that commercials on TV are more effective than commercials online. The findings are usually carefully worded to compare people who actually were exposed to the commercials on different media. There have also been one or two studies showing just the opposite – although sample sizes were generally too small to have confidence in the conclusions.
The Council for Research Excellence’s groundbreaking Video Consumer Mapping Study, which I was privileged to work on, FOX's recent work with Innerscope (and NBC’s previous work with the same company), plus several other studies have indicated that people who watch commercials on television are more engaged than those who watch commercials online, and those who actually watch the ads during DVR playback are at least as attentive as those watching live TV.
But here's the rub. Roughly 80 percent of time-shifted viewing via DVRs includes skipping the commercials. How can I say this? It's just as valid as the 60% often quoted by the Big Four broadcast networks and Nielsen (although they generally say 40% watch the commercials, which makes it sound better).
Nielsen simply cannot measure fast-forwarding, or chooses not to (I’m not sure which). C3 does not eliminate fast-forwarding as many think it does. Fundamental flaws in the way Nielsen calculates both minute ratings and C3 result in a substantial amount of fast-forwarding being included. My guess is that the oft-cited 60% commercial skipping via DVRs is really closer to 80%, perhaps even higher. I know it is in my household. How about yours?
When Nielsen first started reporting DVR data, they made a point of telling people that you couldn’t just subtract Live viewing from Live + 7 to get the time-shifting viewing data. They quickly stopped saying that. I wonder why. It couldn’t be because their biggest clients jumped on the calculation to demonstrate that DVRs were not the severe threat to commercial viewing that advertisers feared they were.
The real question is why neither Nielsen nor the organizations committed to doing excellent research are trying to find out how much fast-forwarding via DVRs is actually taking place (or at least how much Nielsen is missing). It seems to me to be far more important than defining set-top terminology or measuring cross-platform viewing. Both are important, but pale in comparison to understanding the dynamics of time shifting.
It’s actually quite simple to do this type of analysis.
Take 10 or 20 of the industry’s leading television researchers, hook up our television sets to a peoplemeter. Let us record all of our viewing for one night and play back the programs over the next three days. We will write down our second-by-second viewing, including any fast-forwarding, commercial viewing, pausing, etc. Then calculate the C3 rating based on our actual viewing behavior and compare it to what the Nielsen meter calculates as the average C3 rating.
Media Researchers are accustomed to doing extremely detailed analyses. Keeping track of one night’s worth of viewing should not present any problem. This would provide a realistic look at how much fast-forwarding activity is not being accounted for in Nielsen’s metrics.