Mel Sokotch

DVR, TIVO, and the facts about fast forwarding

Ask anyone not directly involved in the media business about the impact of DVRs on TV commercials, and they'll likely tell you that many commercials no longer get seen because they're skipped past. If this is what you think (and I meet many who think exactly this) then read on, and get the facts: 

  • The number of homes with TV time-shifting capability has enjoyed obvious and rapid growth, and according to Nielsen, now stands at 43%. But the growth has slowed, with the cognoscenti projecting a 50% ceiling within the next decade.
  • So, for the moment, fast-forwarding past TV commercials can only take place in some 43 of every 100 homes.  And that, of course, means there's no circumventing of commercials in 57% of households.
  • But how much TV programming is actually recorded and then watched later? In a given week, according to Nielsen, an average of 34 hours of programming is watched live, but only 2 hours 45 minutes is time-shifted, about 7%. It differs by age segment: 25-34 year-olds time-shift 11% of the TV they watch; seniors 65-plus shift less than 5%. 
  • Next question: Among those who time-shift programming, how much commercial time is fast-forwarded? According to Nielsen, it's less than 50%.  Seems counter-intuitive, but fast-forwarding does take a little work, and some are either not willing to make the effort or, just maybe, they're interested in the commercials.
  • So, depending on the demographic, somewhere between three to six percent of all TV commercials are fast-forwarded past. Three to six percent is hardly cataclysmic, and there's even a mitigating factor. Time-shifted TV programs get watched by more people because, well, they can be watched later. As a result, more commercials--at least those not skipped--get watched later, as well.
  • Final point: Some suggest that a fast-forwarded commercial has some intrinsic value. This is a dubious proposition.  Effective TV campaigns tell compelling stories. They can require 15, 30, even 75 seconds to tell. There's just no way these narratives can be comprehended when they're flying by at fast-forward speed.

So, once again, the demise of TV advertising has been exaggerated. Yes, DVR, TIVO and fast-forwarding are having some impact, but so far and all told, it's minor. 

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