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DVRs Blamed for Ratings ‘Slump’

Jun 9, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Nielsen Media Research has good news and bad news for networks. Viewers are still watching just as much television as before; they’re just not watching as many commercials.
Corroborating months of industry speculation, Nielsen last week released to clients an analysis of the 2006-07 television season that blames the recent broadcast ratings slump squarely on burgeoning DVR usage.
“When DVR playback is included, people are watching the same amount of—or in some cases more—television than they did a year ago,” the report said. “Almost all viewing declines this season can be attributed to the increase in DVR use.”
The report stated that overall live television viewing is down 2 percent from last year, but unchanged when seven days of time-shifted viewing is added (Live + 7 ratings).
There is erosion in viewership for broadcast prime time and pay cable, however. Broadcast prime is down 3 percent even with seven days of viewing added, and pay cable is down a steep 12 percent. Ad-supported cable is up 3 percent, suggesting part of the slump is due to viewers migrating to basic cable.
Though Nielsen cites DVR usage as the primary culprit, a few other factors also contributed to the slump. The early introduction of daylight-saving time this year had a measurable impact. And the lack of Olympics coverage in February this year resulted in lower overall viewing levels compared with last year.
Nielsen also cited the broadcast networks for failing to maintain as many original hours of programming as last year. During March, the same month as the time change, 34 percent of hours aired on the top four networks were repeats compared with 19 percent last year.
The measurement company said factoring the influence of competition from new media such as video games and Internet usage remains difficult. Still, Nielsen estimated that video consumption from sources such as online streaming video and cell phones averages out to a mere two minutes per day per user.
Brad Adgate, senior VP of research at Horizon Media, said the report represents the television industry “circling the wagons.”
“The broadcast networks let out a huge howl whenever usage levels drop,” he said.
Still, Mr. Adgate did not dispute the report’s conclusion that DVRs are primarily to blame for falling ratings.
“For a technology that’s only in about one out of six homes, it’s starting to have an impact on how people watch television,” he said.
A Changing Season
Nielsen’s report on the 2006-07 season concluded DVR usage and other factors accounted for ratings declines more than actual viewership loss. Among the findings:
Total Day Live: -2%
Total Day Live+7: N/C
Broadcast Prime Live+7: -3%
Ad Support Cable Prime Live+7: +3%
Pay Cable Live+7: -12%
Repeat Minutes in Prime, March-May 2006: 21%
Repeat Minutes in Prime, March-May 2007: 30%
* With the exception of repeat minutes data, all figures are for the 2006-07 season among adults 18 to 49 compared with the previous season, according to Nielsen Media Research.

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