Six Broadcasters Unite to Assert DVRs Increase Ad Impressions

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NEW YORK ( -- The broadcast TV networks today began to lay their case for why advertisers and agencies should count time-shifted viewing when Nielsen begins reporting it in its national sample next month. The debate over how to count viewers who record shows on DVRs for later viewing is an issue that promises to be a major battleground in next year’s upfront negotiations with advertisers.
David Poltrack, exec VP-research and planning for CBS and UPN, made a strong case for counting viewers of time-shifted content.

At NBC’s Rockefeller Center headquarters this morning, the research heads for ABC, Fox and the WB, and presenters David Poltrack, exec VP-research and planning for CBS and UPN, and Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research, unveiled a swath of DVR research supporting the broadcasters' view that time-shifting viewers have value.

“No matter how much you discount those new viewers coming in through DVR viewing, there will be an increase -- not a decrease -- in real advertising impressions,” Mr. Poltrack said. According to the networks’ research, a show such as “Desperate Housewives” could see an additional 0.8 rating point if time-shifted viewing was included and that a lower-rated show such as the WB’s “Supernatural” could see its audience grow an additional 10%.

Mainstream consumers watch time-shifted programs differently than early adopters did, the broadcasters research found. The networks also said passive measurement of DVR usage indicates far less ad-skipping than originally thought and, even when ads are skipped, recall is only slightly below that of ads that are watched.

Agencies balk
The networks stance comes two weeks after major media-buying agencies started saying they would not pay for viewers who time shift shows. Agencies are generally split into three camps on this issue: Many, including Mediaedge:cia, GSD&M and R.J. Palmer, have decided to only accept live ratings in the absence of commercial ratings. Agencies such as Carat and Starcom haven’t issued a formal stance and could choose to negotiate differently client by client. And others, such as Magna Global, which negotiates for Initiative and Universal McCann, remain deeply troubled by the fact Nielsen includes VCR recording as live viewing, and say they would consider including time-shifted viewing if VCR data was no longer included.

But the biggest question for advertisers and agencies is how many consumers are zapping through ads when watching programs saved on their DVRs.

“That’s not the question,” Mr. Poltrack said. “The question is, does the commercial work?” According to CBS research, 58% of consumers still look that screen while fast-forwarding through commercials and that’s enough to make an ad impression. According to his research, commercial recall between a DVR owner and non-owner is not all that different -- it’s 88% correlated.

Only 9% of TV time shifted
Additionally, Mr. Wurtzel said, ad-skipping in DVR viewing isn’t nearly as prevalent as initially reported. For one, he said, there’s a huge difference in how people report their own time-shifted viewing and how much is measured passively. In a CBS study, DVR users estimated 40% of their TV viewing is time shifted. In a similar TiVo study, customers estimated their time-shifted viewing at 32%. In the recent Houston trial of Arbitron’s portable people meters (PPMs), a passive media measurement tool, DVR households only time-shifted 9% of their TV viewing. The PPM study also showed time-shifted viewing varied by household member.

Nielsen is already measuring time-shifted viewing in metered markets that don’t use local people meters, or LPMs. On Dec. 26, Nielsen will begin rolling out among its national sample active-passive meters, which detect time-shifted viewing.

What’s more, Mr. Poltrack said, consumers with DVRs watch more TV. He pointed to the early Nielsen data culled from metered, non-LPM markets and said for consumers with DVRs, time spent with TV goes up because viewers “can move ‘CSI’ and ‘The Apprentice’ away from each other and watch them both later.” He points out that broadcast TV has the most to benefit from time-shifted viewing; while it captures 50% of live TV viewing, its share of DVR playback totals 63%.

“All of this viewership is incremental, new audience,” he said. “It means there’s more commercial exposure.”

So many, so wrong
“I cannot remember a situation where so many pundits and forecasters and analysts have been so wrong for so long,” Mr. Poltrack said. “DVR will enhance, increase viewership of network TV programs and will increase exposure to advertising within those programs.”

Yet, at a time when major advertisers have more non-TV options than ever, does additional commercial exposure even matter? “We don’t like to say advertisers are wrong,” Mr. Poltrack said. “But we think they’re getting some wrong advice. The intelligence is DVRs will drive people from commercials and the data we’ve gotten from the PPM and Nielsen studies indicate the opposite.”

Nielsen’s inclusion of VCR recording in its live ratings is also an issue for Shari Anne Brill, VP-programming at Carat. “We don’t know [VCR-recorded material] gets played back,” she said. “To finally have a playback measurement [for DVR] while still counting a number that should have never been there in the first place is frustrating. ... If you’re capable of adding in a number, why aren’t you capable of removing it?”

VCR recording of a show such as ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” Ms. Brill said, generally accounts for close to a full ratings point.

Regardless of how the next discussion goes, the issue could be moot within a few years, Mr. Poltrack predicted.

“I believe this DVR thing is a transitional period. The VOD is a virtual DVR and we’ll be moving from a world of DVRs to VODs very quickly,” he said.

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