TV viewing has increased 3% at 9 p.m., over regular TV viewing in 2005, and was 5% higher between 11 and midnight. The global research firm began nationally tracing DVR usage back in 2006, when market penetration of the technology was only 8%. Two years later, DVRs can be found in 22% of all homes, a fast growth that can be attributed to cable and satellite companies including DVR functions in their set-top boxes.
Accelerating the trend
"DVR penetration has gone up 4% in the last six months alone, but two things will accelerate this trend," said Patricia McDonough, senior VP-insight analysis and policy at Nielsen Media. "The first is the fact that the biggest purchases over this last holiday season were high-definition TV sets, which means all these people need to get HD set-top boxes, most of which carry DVR technology. The second is the 2009 deadline to go digital set by the government."
The resemblance in function to yesteryear's VCR means consumers can relate to the technology, and even appreciate its increased user friendliness, said Ms. McDonough.
Nielsen's research segments DVR users into three categories: heavy shifters, who account for about 10% of all users; medium shifters, who spend about a third of their TV viewing time shifting; and light shifters, who represent 70% of all users.
More interesting, however, is how those categories match different demographics. Middle-income women are the heaviest time-shifters, with half their weekly TV viewing, or 26 hours, going through DVR. Paradoxically, light viewers are more likely to be high-income earners ($100,000-plus) and own high-definition TV sets, yet they spend only 10% of their time watching shows they recorded.
"There are more women out of the work force, so they tend to be heavier users," Ms. McDonough said. "Light users work more. Television is a smaller part of their life, and they may not have the program loyalty to warrant as much play shifting."
Sports, news and movies
Sports, news and movies were more often played live, whereas scripted dramas such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI" -- both very popular among women and at the same broadcast time on competing channels -- were more likely to be time-shifted, especially by heavy users. "Since there really are different kinds of viewers watching the shows, marketers will be able to better segment their strategies against them," commented Ms. McDonough.
While Nielsen's C3 ratings data -- which track commercial viewing that includes shows watched up to three days later using a DVR -- had initially suggested a loss for marketers, Ms. McDonough said the technology simply hasn't had as much impact as expected.
In fact, the C3 figures have remained stable because while heavy users are merely optimizing their viewing schedules, light users are adding to their viewing time. And in that there is opportunity for marketers, Ms. McDonough said. "Heavy viewers can be worn out by the ads they see, so DVR allows them to avoid that, while lighter viewers are watching more TV, so they are actually seeing ads they wouldn't have seen without it. It balances out."