February 19, 2007
DVR Viewers Watching Commercials After All? Nielsen Study Shows Significant Number of Commercial Viewers, Especially Same-Day

The latest DVR news is likely to have networks rejoicing, if the Nielsen statistics are any indication of how people are using their digital video recorders, especially in same-day viewing of advertisements.

A pair of stories from sources that I follow regularly have highlighted the implications of the Nielsen results. Louise Story from The New York Times highlights the Nielsen study that finds that people who watch television with DVRs watch an average of two-thirds of the advertisements as part of her story on Friday.

One of the reasons, and this is no surprise, is that people with DVRs still watch "about half of their shows at the scheduled start time," meaning that DVR users still watch things while they are on through their digital video recorder. If live viewing is still counted as DVR viewing, then I'm not quite as surprised at the statistics because live viewing is very much still a part of the television experience, even for people like me who have two DVRs in less than 500 square feet of space.

I don't watch much "when it's on," but there's another phenomenon that Story doesn't mention that is still important. Sometimes, in an effort to skip commercials, I wait several minutes before I start watching a program. Of course, if I miscalculate and start too early, I end up catching up to the live airing and watch the last couple of commercial breaks.

Nevertheless, she emphasizes that "even when people watch recorded shows later, many are not fast-forwarding through the ads. On average, Nielsen found, DVR owners watch 40 percent of commercials that they could skip over."

While some may question whether the Nielsen study is completely valid, how the data was gathered, and Nielsen's own stake in the continued validity of the 30-second spot, there's no doubt that people still do want to "know what's going on" with new products. I know I still stop for a creative commercial, a movie trailer, or anything that catches my eye when I'm fast-forwarding through. And I was talking to brand managers for a major company recently who emphasized the irony that people still want to be up on the latest products even as they brag about skipping commercials.

Story writes, "People who have DVRs often insist that they never watch commercials, as if skipping commercials is a badge of honor. And while it is true that some DVR owners probably watch no commercials, others never touch the fast-forward button. Most people are probably in the middle of those two extremes."

Story's best point here is that the majority of us fall between extremes, using the DVR to time shift often but not always, perhaps, and skipping some commercials while occasionally stopping to watch a few. I know that, sometimes, a lifetime of watching live has caused me to forget to fast-forward a commercial break.

Not surprisingly, viewers are most likely to watch the first commercial in a break, before they remember to fast-forward, and the last commercial, in an effort not to fast-forward through the program again.

Meanwhile, Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek focuses on the news that most commercial views on DVRs come on the first day.

The ratings for primetime commercials for broadcast TV were reported to gain 16 percent in ratings if they count the first 27 hours of DVR viewing, but the number only raises 6 more percent, to 22 percent, if one counts a full week of DVR viewing.

I wonder if that means that either day-of DVR viewers watch more commercials or that people are likely to end up deleting programs off completely and never watch them if they've set on the DVR a certain amount of time.

Lafayette also points out that the study found that VCR viewing now only contributes to 2.4 percent of primetime ratings for the first 21 days of January, down from 3.1 percent in January last year.

Layfayette says, "The findings are likely to factor into the debate going on in the TV industry about how commercials viewed after they are broadcast by consumers using DVRs will be accounted for when ad time is purchased."

For our long-standing coverage of commercial ratings, look here.