Broadcast and cable networks are struggling to compete against a “new competitor,” Variety reports. That competitor, as strange as it might sound, is themselves.
“In the past year, the volume of DVR playback viewing that occurs during prime-time hours has reached the point where the DVR now ranks as the No. 1 network,” the story reports. “The ratings generated by viewers opting to watch time-shifted programs — from across the television dial — are equivalent to the averages of the Big Four networks combined.”
The stat was presented by Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBCUniversal, during a presentation on the state of TV viewing. “What is most unnerving for traditional TV executives is the accelerated pace of change during the past seven years, such as how quickly tablets have been embraced by consumers and become a significant TV viewing platform,” the Variety piece reports.
Time-shifted options including the DVR, video-on-demand and online streaming are catching on in particular with older viewers, after younger viewers previously took to multi-platform viewing.
Said Wurtzel: “This behavior is no longer about a bunch of 25-year-olds who wear black and live in Williamsburg. It affects everybody across the country.”
Variety adds: “All this time-shifting means network programmers have to adapt to two big challenges. They need to work harder to give viewers a reason to tune in to a program on the night it airs, and they need to understand the dynamics that drive time-shifted viewing patterns. With the explosion in the volume of original content offered by TV and digital outlets, the most avid TV viewers are no longer just using DVRs and other devices to catch up on shows. They’re using on-demand options as tools to create their own prime-time lineups.”
Adds Wurtzel: “We talk about [how] the consumer wants control. But the fact of the matter is what’s going on now has really gone way beyond control. It really is the consumer as curator. And by ‘curation,’ I mean these [viewers] are customizing what they get and how they get it.”
The report adds that technical hurdles in measuring streaming video are part of a problem of perception for the broadcast nets, whose widely seen overnight numbers create the impression that overall viewership is falling. “There is activity in the streaming arena to offset, if not reverse, the declines for some programs, but the numbers for streaming aren’t readily available,” the report notes.
Numbers for traditional TV channels have been steadily falling in recent years. “Nielsen’s linear TV numbers show a big drop in overall television usage among key demos between 2008-13, such as a 17% decline for the adults 18-24 demo and 15% drop for adults 25-54,” Variety notes. “This was a red flag for network research execs because the ‘persons using television,’ or PUT level numbers, ‘move glacially,’ Wurtzel said. Such a big drop in a short period did not compute — until they realized how much activity was happening beyond the living room screen.”