Are DVRs 'Own Worst Enemy' for Networks?

Rash Report: For Some Shows, DVRs Expand the Audience

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MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The calendar collision of NBC's program premiere of "My Own Worst Enemy" and the release of TV's fall season's first live and seven-day ratings could be construed as coincidence. Or, more ominously, as evidence that digital video recorders will bust the business model of serialized dramas. That's because this genre of network TV -- with multiweek story arcs and season ending cliffhangers -- is the most susceptible to TiVo, as loyal viewers might be able to skip a sitcom, but wouldn't dare miss Meredith choosing between McDreamy and McSteamy on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."
Christian Slater in NBC's 'My Own Worst Enemy.'
Christian Slater in NBC's 'My Own Worst Enemy.' Credit: NBC

But far from being a worst enemy, DVRs can be a network's best friend, as they allow accommodations for the modern media landscape and its infinite interruptions.

"My Own Worst Enemy" will test this theory, as the highly hyped premiere was probably digitally recorded by many, just like another oft-recorded Monday NBC drama, "Heroes." That hit's two-hour season premiere received a 40% jump in seven-day viewing among the ad-centric adults 18-49 demographic.

The power of "Heroes"
Whether "Heroes" (4.3/8) is as super this week remains to be seen, but the show was viewed 8% more in the demo compared to last week. And NBC has to hope for a similar bump for the season premiere of "Worst Enemy" (3.0/7), as it lost 30% of its "Heroes" lead-in.

At 8 p.m., "Chuck" delivered a 2.4/6, which helped NBC (3.2/7) tie ABC (3.2/8) for second place overall.

ABC's Monday night schedule offers a microcosm of genre difference in DVR viewing, as the network relies on reality ("Dancing with the Stars," 4.0/9), comedy ("Samantha Who?," 3.0/7) and drama ("Boston Legal," 2.1/5). Like many reality series -- particularly participatory shows such as "Stars" and Fox's "American Idol" -- there is a lower rate of seven-day DVR playback, as indicated in "Star's" more-modest premiere week bump of 14%. "Boston Legal," conversely, was up 29% over the same span.

Last night was the season premiere of "Samantha Who?" so it's too early to discern DVR playback. But the comeback of one of last year's only successful sitcoms lost a third of its adults 18-49 from last year's series premiere.

"Big Bang" delivers
CBS had one of the other strong sitcom starts last year with "The Big Bang Theory," which, with DVR playback figures added, saw its ratings rise 26% over premiere week. Last night it delivered a 3.6/9, right about its season average. This consistency was matched by comedic companions "How I Met your Mother" (3.9/9), "Two and a Half Men" (5.3/12) and "Worst Week" (3.2/7), which had its best week since its premiere a month ago.

Bucking the sitcom/drama DVR trend was "CSI: Miami," which had a 16% ratings rise in premiere week seven-day viewing. While this was less than some CBS sitcoms, "CSI: Miami" continues to win its timeslot, as it did last night, delivering a 3.9/10 to help the network win the night with an overall 4.0/9.

With the more august audience on CBS, the DVR discrepancy may be indicative of generation rather than genre. Conversely, CBS's corporate cousin CW is on the inverse of the generational spectrum. This is apparent not only in the programming, but also in the rate of seven-day DVR playback: Premiere week saw a 38% spike for "Gossip Girl" and "One Tree Hill," two shows that probably can't wait a week, lest their intended audiences lose their homeroom cred. Last night the network averaged a 1.7/4, as "Gossip Girl" (1.6/4) and "One Tree" (1.7/4) were back with original episodes (OMG!) after last week's repeats.

Little DVR for sports
Not surprisingly, the genre with the lowest DVR playback -- but often with the highest ratings -- is sports, as the big game gets a whole lot smaller if watched days, let alone minutes, longer. Last night was probably no exception, as game 4 of the National League Championship on Fox delivered a 2.5/7 (as well as a Phillies victory over the Dodgers) and ESPN's "Monday Night Football" once again scored (at least more than the Giants did) with a 4.7/12. Combined, the baseball/football games notched a 7.2/19, a figure that will barely budge once the live-plus-seven-day data is released.

So DVRs needn't be the networks' worst enemy, as it allows for viewers to stick with a series as complexly creative as ABC's "Lost." But since advertisers generally only account for viewing within three days, the key to the devices being the nets' best friend is to get people who TiVo TV's best shows to get engaged more quickly, just as they root for Meredith Grey to do the same.

WHAT TO WATCH:
Tuesday: This election season, forgo the heat of cable news and go towards the light of PBS, which offers "The Choice 2008," an in-depth intelligent perspective on the presidential aspirants. PBS's previous "Choice" specials, dating back to 1988, have usually been the best broadcast journalism of that campaign season.
Wednesday: OK, PBS has given you the "Choice." Now choose by watching Senators Obama and McCain in the final presidential debate.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
ABC's "Eli Stone" is the latest attempt to reengage viewers in serialized sophomore series, which has proven difficult for shows such as NBC's "Chuck" and "Life."

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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)

John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.
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