Nielsen DVR Ratings Show Viewers Might Not Have Left After All

By Ken Kerschbaumer
According to an article in today’s New York Times, Nielsen’s measurement of delayed viewing on DVRs indicates that programs that suffered a ratings decline last season nearly match the previous year’s numbers when delayed viewers are added in. Grey’s Anatomy and House, for example, logged an additional 4.2 million and 3.7 million viewers, respectively. Sunday Night Football, however, barely changed, with 10,000 additional viewers. The numbers are worthy of deeper study, particularly in their implication for sports.
Advertisers looking to tap into a live audience because of an upcoming sale, movie premiere, or hot deal will want to take a closer look at sports, the biggest driver of “appointment viewing” that is fairly resistant to skipping commercials via DVR.
AdWeek reports that six CBS and four ABC shows added more than 1 million viewers each and NBC’s overall numbers rose by 12 percent.
The availability of delayed-viewing data will continue to make overnight data less important, as households increasingly add DVR capabilities. DVR penetration today among 18- to 49-year-olds is roughly 33 percent, according to Alan Wurtzel, NBC president of research. With shows like The Office showing gains of 48 percent via DVR ratings, networks will no doubt point to such numbers, not overnights, as most applicable. And they wouldn’t be wrong, because the DVR numbers do, in fact, more accurately reflect the total audience.
But there is a downside to relying on delayed viewing. DVR viewers are prone to skipping commercials, a move that leaves ad agencies skittish about having to pay for viewers who might not have watched their commercials. Look for networks to continue to experiment with advertising models that are less reliant on commercial pods or, at least, are so short that they aren’t worth skipping.
Kelly Kahl, senior EVP of CBS primetime, told the Wall Street Journal that the prevalence of DVRs as a cause for concern. Twenty-seven percent of people in U.S. television homes have a DVR, up from 20 percent last year, according to Nielsen.
“More people have DVRs now, and when they have them, they like them,” Kahl said. “This isn’t something that’s going to go away or we can hope to see go away. DVR usage is just a fact of life for us.”