How the DVR Extends TV's Prime Time

At TCA: CBS Research Chief David Poltrack on Why Monster Hits Still Matter

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. ( -- To attend the Television Critics Association's summer press tour is to attend a Jedi-mind-trick master class about staying on message -- no matter what the question.
CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack
CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack Credit: John Filo

Critic: Both on your network and all the other networks, there are a number of shows with lead actors from other countries playing Americans. I'm just wondering: What's going on here?

CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler: You know what, I think it has a lot to do with the quality of our programming ...

But if you listened closely, beyond all the tubthumping of new shows, there were other messages at TCA last week -- and compelling ones for anyone trying to break through to an increasingly busy, distracted and empowered audience in a time of TiVo, broadband, mobile video and a million other diversions.

CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack does have a rather dry approach to relaying some of those messages, though, so you're forgiven if you unwittingly followed "Jericho" starlet Ashley Scott out to the bar of the Beverly Hilton in a hypnotic trance and missed his essential presentation. So here's a primer on what you should have been paying attention to at TCA:

Monster hits matter. Niche programming might be the rage, but a monster hit TV show such as "Lost" or "CSI" matters like never before. Mr. Poltrack disclosed that of all the countless hours of programming on TV every year, the top 30 shows account for an astonishing 15% of what adults 18 to 49 are watching.

Don't fear the web or TiVo. They aren't nearly so scary as previously thought, particularly for advertisers on broadcast TV. Sure, broadband is growing quickly. "Fully connected" households -- those with digital TV and broadband -- leapt to nearly 30% from 25% year on year. Web crawling during prime time is up 28% among adults. But the web's growth hasn't negatively affected how much time we spend watching the tube. Indeed, Mr. Poltrack's research found that 73% of us watch the same amount of TV as we used to, and 16% of us watch more TV in prime time.

YouTube won't replace the boob tube. According to Mr. Poltrack's CBS Vision research, 63% of us watched video on the internet last year, while this year that number leapt to 85%. In addition, whether someone has viewed a show online seems to positively affect whether they'd watch the show again on TV. Twenty-one percent of adults said they would watch a show more after they'd seen it online, while 69% said they'd watch the program the same amount.

DVR users sometimes notice ads. By the time next year's critical upfront TV advertising sales period arrives, digital video recorders such as TiVo will be in one out of every four American homes. The good news for advertisers? While TiVo is certainly used for ad zapping, it's done not with the regularity one might think. Mr. Poltrack said more than half of the time, DVR owners polled "sometimes notice ads," while 15% of the time they "always notice ads." Moreover, those DVR owners were able to recall specific brands advertised 44% of the time while watching live TV, compared with 41% of the time in playback -- hardly a massive drop in awareness.

Prime time just got longer. Just as Taco Bell has profitably invented the gut-expanding "fourth meal," it should come as a delight of advertisers that TiVo and its clones seem to be expanding prime time into a "fourth hour," from 8 p.m. to 12 p.m. Someone who might have watched an evening of CBS's "Big Brother" and "CSI" might then also watch ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" in the same night instead of simply watching their affiliate's nightly recap of fires and crimes and tomorrow's weather. "Thirty percent of [DVR owners] are doing this on a regular basis," Mr. Poltrack said with a slight grimace. "We know because it's affecting our late [local] news and our morning shows."
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