PVRs good for networks

(via PVR Wire)
Some foolish CBS researcher went and did the unthinkable – he looked into the claim that PVRs (Personal Video Recorders – think Tivo and ReplayTV) are bad for the networks.  Upon conducting this study, he found out that PVRs are good for the networks.  Of course, much like the reality that downloaders are the biggest purchasers of music, this fact won’t sway the fear-mongers who are trying to prevent good technology from making the lives of consumers better.

It seems like the most obvious thing in the world that digital video recorders are bad news for TV networks. DVRs make it easier for viewers to record a show tonight and watch it four days down the road — or to capture it tonight after it ran four days ago. Some of them even enable viewers to save an entire season of a series to the DVR’s hard drive with one click of a button.

By further distorting the TV schedule, these VCRs in overdrive would appear to diminish the value of the advertising on which television networks rely. After all, many ads are time-sensitive. What’s the point of touting tomorrow’s release of a Hollywood blockbuster if people won’t see the tout until after the all-important first weekend?

And so, during a recent lunch hour, in a meeting room in Pasadena, the chief research officer of CBS presented TV critics with the other side of the story. And according to David Poltrack’s statistics, DVRs are just dandy for big networks like his.

Why?  Well, let’s look at some of the realities he found:

  • DVR penetration in the United States is at 12% to 15% of households, versus 8% last year
  • the public is adopting DVRs at a slower rate than some observers predicted, and the idea that a DVR revolution would sweep away the networks’ scheduling power has “been thoroughly discredited.”
  • DVR-equipped viewers of the big four U.S. networks still watch 90% of their shows live, although this figure drops to 82% for prime time
  • Sixty-six per cent of viewers who have recorded a show on DVR watch it by 6 a.m. the next morning, Mr. Poltrack said, and 80% watch within two days
  • DVRs will increase the total audience. Case in point: On U.S. television this autumn, two very popular shows, Grey’s Anatomy on ABC and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS, are going toe-to-toe at 9 p.m. on Tuesdays (this scheduling conflict does not occur in Canada)

Less PVRs (I call them PVRs, he says DVRs) than expected, slower growth, high same day/next-day viewing, extremely high live-TV viewership?  All kinds of crazy stuff.  The end result is for the vast majority of PVR owners, the devices have changed very little in peoples’ actual viewing habits.   Mr. Poltrak (the CBS researcher) also notes that people already skip commercials on VCRs, so PVRs won’t change that.  Plus, people “get” the ads, even at high speed or with only limited exposure.

His argument is that people get the point of ads even at a higher rate of speed (indeed, that kind of absorption of information is the underpinning of the roadside billboard industry). Mr. Poltrack observed that many commercials are now designed to remain comprehensible in fast-forward.

The end of the world does not appear to be imminent for the networks now.  But I’m sure someone will come along, brush the facts under a rug, and work on getting our wonderful congress to pass laws restricting the grand timesaving devices we call PVRs.

[tags]PVRs, network television, PVRs good for networks[/tags]