Digital video recorders, or DVRs, were once thought to be the weapon that would kill advertiser-supported TV. After all, conventional wisdom asks: Who wouldn't simply skip past all of the commercials when watching a time-shifted program? Well, according to an article in The New York Times, a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. Instead of killing off commercial TV, the DVR might be what saves it. Nielsen, the company that tallies up viewership for TV networks and advertisers, reports that more and more people are keeping their fingers off the clicker as commercials drift by when watching programs recorded on their DVRs.
The number of time-shifted commercial watchers appears to be pretty significant. For example, among those between 18 and 49 years old -- a very desirable demographic for advertisers -- around 46 percent let the commercials play on, Nielsen says. While there are lots of theories why -- including more interesting commercials and tricks like additional content drop-ins designed to get fast-forwarders to stop -- the most likely reason is the most obvious one: TV watching is still a passive activity, says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of Horizon Media, in the article.
Because Nielsen now counts both live and time-shifted commercial viewership (up to three days after the original air date of a program), the impact is considerable. Some programs have seen commercial viewership rise by more than 25 percent when time shifters are included, saving the bacon -- at least for now -- for a variety of TV shows either on the bubble or otherwise certainly destined for the chopping block. On the other hand, some programs -- particularly topical ones such as NBC's "The Jay Leno Show" -- have seen their commercial ratings fall. The reason is that some still "commercial skip" (change the channel during commercials) when watching live, and not enough are recording those programs to overcome that.
Not to be lost in all of this is the dramatic rise in the number of U.S. households with DVRs. According to The New York Times article, that has jumped from 28 percent to 33 percent in the last year alone. While commercial DVRs such as those from TiVo remain popular with some, the real push behind the increase is the easy availability of DVRs from most cable, fiber and satellite TV providers. Our report on digital video recorders has information on all of these options so you can see which ones make the most sense for you.