The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

In a reversal of the assumptions that have had most TV programmers petrified with fear, DVR users tend to be more likely to watch television commercials, according to the research study "Demystifying Digital Video Recorders" jointly published by InsightExpress and MediaPost.
Most importantly, the research concludes that DVRs "recapture" TV commercial exposures that otherwise would have been "zapped" by non-DVR viewers. The study estimated that 51 percent of non-DVR viewers zap TV commercials, usually by using their remote control to change the channel when they come on. However, 96 percent of those viewers actually watch TV commercials when they become DVR subscribers, albeit in fast-forward mode.

While such fast-forwarding clearly diminishes the communications effectiveness of TV commercials, the study found that most fast-fowarders "notice" TV commercials either "always" (15 percent) or "sometimes" (52 percent) while zipping through the spots.
The "diminishment" cited here may not be that big a deal. The point of advertising is, foremost, to get the brand into the consumer's head. Even though the message not delivered as intended in fast-forward mode, as long as the logo/slogan/whatever makes it to the eyeballs, mission accomplished.

Moreover, notice that the favored method of commercial avoidance by non-DVR users was changing the channel. People who watch DVRed stuff effectively don't have this option--that's why they're using the DVR in the first place, to record what they want for viewing at their chosen time. So, short of turning the DVR off, the only choice they have for reducing their commerical intake is the fast-forward button, which at least keeps them on the same program. Ironically, this makes them even more of a captive audience, from an advertiser's perspective!

When you consider some of the features that are most often touted as the advantages of DVR living, this doesn't make sense. The miracle box is supposed to give the television viewer unprecedented control over what plays on the screen: The ability to pause "live" programming (actually setting the DVR to record programming in progress and make it available for viewing only a couple of minutes later, thus allowing for those pauses); time-shifting to record a program for later, more convenient viewing; and the ability to fast-forward through those commercial interruptions. Logically, having a DVR should encourage viewers to filter out everything except the scenes in the shows they record and want to watch.

Except, that it doesn't.

These findings boil down to a simple truism: Most people do not want their television viewing to be work. Think about it: Why, given the ocean of DVD purchases/rentals, videogames, pay-per-view and all the other entertainment options, do people still plop down on the couch and turn on their TVs to whatever's on at the moment? Because it's effortless. Most of the time, people don't want to go through the chore of deciding on specific entertainment content; they'd rather have it pushed at them. It's the same reason why radio still gets massive ratings, despite the presence of home stereos and car CD players. It's fundamental.

Actively sitting in front of your TV and fast-forwarding through commercials is a hassle--again, it's work. It's the last thing most people want to do; they'd rather sit back and absorb. So the commercials have to be endured for a few minutes; on balance, it's a small price to pay.

These findings confirm what I've always suspected: The primary appeal of the DVR for the majority of television viewers--and we're talking about the vast majority of media consumers, not the relatively small number who were early adopters of Tivo--is the ability to time-shift programming, and to do it in a lower-maintenance way than the VCR. That's it. The rest is gravy that may or may not be utilized.

While I always figured this was the case, I got a good taste of it at the beginning of this year, via a reader comment at
Just like a VCR, when you play back a previously recorded program on a Tivo, you can fast-forward through the commercials-- carefully watching of course, for the return of the program. Even then you still see the commercials-- they just go by faster. But since you have already previously seen each commercial at least 100 time before-- you know exactly what they are promoting even at the higher speed. Or, just like a regular television set, you can hit the MUTE button during the commercial. In our household, even with our dual-tuner DirecTV/Tivo unit, 99% of our television viewing is still in "real time" complete with all the commercials. Even when my wife watches a Tivo recorded show she rarely fast-forwards through the commercials. (italics mine)
As more polling confirms these attitudes, I think the panic atmosphere in the television industry will subside, much as it did when VCRs were looked at in the same threatening light. Hopefully, this will result in a rollback of all the proposed ad-centric content like "Pepsi Smash" that's been looked upon as the workaround for DVR ad-skipping.

(Via Follow Me Here...)