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Lazy TV Viewers to the Rescue!

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Remember those DVRs that are supposed to be killing the TV business by letting people skip advertising? Turns out they’re killing the TV business somewhat more softly than previously thought. Or maybe even helping it.

The ultimate outcome is still hazy, but the effects of DVR on TV have become more complicated because, as Bill Carter reports in the New York Times, it turns out that 46% of viewers 18 to 49 years old (the magic target for advertisers) are still watching the commercials in shows they record. The irresistible force that is technology has met the immovable object that is the slack-jawed American TV viewer, and they are fighting to a draw!

Now, I would bring a few caveats to Carter’s piece. I’d have liked to see a little more clarity on the statistics, for one thing: e.g., are 46% of commercials being watched, or are 46% of people watching some commercials? (If I’m reading the piece wrong, please jump in and correct me.) And while the percentage of ads being watched may be surprising, that still leaves quite a percentage of ads not being watched—and the amount of time-shifting that’s based on is only growing, with DVR usership up to a third of households.

That said, if the assumption heretofore has been that DVR viewing essentially doesn’t count, ad-wise (an idea the networks, who are probably glad to see this article, have been fighting), then that could change. The question is the net effect the DVR has on the viewership and effectiveness of ads. If the DVR gets more people to skip ads, but results in people watching more TV than they used to, its effects could be a wash, which would delight networks trying to sell ads. Especially if they can get advertisers to pay for DVR viewership within a week of airing (right now, as the article notes, they pay for only the first three, getting four DVR days free).

The upshot for now is that the total ratings for a show, including DVR viewing, do still matter. This helps shows with big DVR fanbases (like House and The Office). It could even save a marginal show like Heroes. And it is yet another piece of bad news for “DVR-proof” Jay Leno, whose show is indeed so DVR-proof that it gains practically no viewers (relatively speaking) from the delayed-viewing boost.

Whether or not this is fantastic news for TV networks or not, it is at least not more bad news, which they’ve had enough of lately. Meanwhile, America, just keep staring blankly from your couch in a semi-fugue state at those recorded commercials, and everything will be fine. And thanks for subsidizing my TV viewing as I skip the ads!