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Change ahead for channels

Jul 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

ABC, CBS and NBC have a new enemy to contend with: PVR.
A major study on personal-video-recorder usage, obtained by Electronic Media, suggests that TV networks’ current emphasis on branding may come to naught in the PVR era.
The study, from Marietta, Ga.-based consulting firm NextResearch, surveyed more than 340 of the nation’s early-adopting PVR owners. It concluded that 63 percent of current PVR owners are watching more television than they did before owning the device, but that about 1 in 8 (12 percent) have “no idea” of which channels the shows being watched were originally on.
“This has tremendous implications for television networks,” according to a summary of the study, “since if this trend continues the network may cease to be a recognizable consumer brand, and network lineups will have less impact on a viewer who no longer identifies their favorite shows with the network on which they are broadcast.”
That 12 percent is a significant number, according to Everett Wallace, NextResearch’s chief technology officer, because the technology is so new that his expectation before doing the study was that such a pattern would only assert itself “over time.”
Of particular interest to the advertising industry is the finding that the same percentage of viewers skip
through television commercials with PVRs as fast-forward through them with VCRs. According to Mr. Wallace, that figure is around 25 percent in both cases.
Other results of the study find that almost one-third of all current PVR-enabled viewers already have bought additional units, suggesting that PVRs eventually will find their way to every television set in the home. While almost two-thirds of the study’s respondents say they are watching more TV since getting a PVR, almost 1 in 6 (16 percent) claim to be watching “much more” television.
The study also finds that around 1 in 3 PVR owners are hooking the devices to the same TV that is already connected to a VCR. “These PVR owners are using their VCRs as extended storage for their PVRs, pointing out the importance of including features on future PVRs that make this process as fast and easy as possible,” the study summary says.
NextResearch pegs the number of PVRs currently in consumers’ homes at approximately 300,000; other estimates place the number at up to 400,000.
The study finds that 47 percent of study respondents have TiVo and 35 percent have ReplayTV. Only 4 percent have UltimateTV, a result Mr. Wallace attributed to that product’s relatively recent arrival on the market. About 1 percent of those surveyed have “no idea” what brand their PVR is, responding with a variation of: “It came with my satellite dish.”
About 900,000 PVRs will be in homes by the end of this year, and “in excess of 40 million homes” will have them by the end of five years, according to Joshua Bernoff, Forrester Research principal analyst. Mr. Bernoff recently predicted a 20 percent drop in the overall viewing level of TV commercials within five years, attributing the falloff to the coming mass-market acceptance of the PVR.
“Television in which you sit through the commercials is about to be replaced,” he said. The PVR, according to Mr. Bernoff, “degrades the value of advertising.”
The unreleased NextResearch study suggests that-at least with the early adopters-that prediction has not come to pass.
Given the buzz in recent months about the paradigm-changing nature of the new devices, Leenie Ruben, chief strategic officer, NextResearch, drew an interesting reaction when she recently approached a senior executive at one of the nation’s premier advertising agencies about the PVR study. The executive said he had never heard of PVRs, and moreover, he wasn’t interested in learning more.