What NYC's High Line Tells Us About Time-Shifting

 Last week, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my wife and I went for a walk on the High Line, the incredible park that's been created from an old elevated freight-train track on the southwest side of Manhattan. It's a dramatic experience, and to my mind, one of the best projects in New York City going back decades.

The High Line is remarkable for many reasons: the stunning and unexpected views of the cityscape, the unusual design and landscaping of the park itself, and -- not least -- the unwavering tenacity of those who spearheaded what was largely a community-funded project.

But what strikes me most about the High Line is its story of reclamation: The park transformed a dilapidated old train track -- a blight on the urban landscape -- into a world-class destination in its own right. With the creation of the High Line Park, New York City created space without piling another forty stories onto an existing structure. And the park is more than a serene city retreat. It's also an enormous commercial success story, having generated billions of dollars in nearby real estate appreciation and development. 

How does this relate to television, you ask?

As the High Line recaptures space, DVR-assisted television viewing recaptures time. As DVR adoption has increased over the last few years -- and more than a third of American households now have DVRs, according to Magna Global -- viewers have gained the freedom to choose how, when, and where to watch the shows they like. And they can choose whether to watch or skip the advertising.

For years, this prospect freaked the heck out of advertisers and networks. They'd taken for granted that time-shifted viewing would have a significant impact on the way television programming and advertising were consumed, but until recently, it wasn't clear what the nature of that impact would be, and whether it would lead to lower, more selective overall television viewing.

But even with the broad adoption of DVRs, TV viewing remains on the rise, according to Nielsen. A report released last week, "State of the Media: Cross Platform Report," showed that Americans watch an average of 22 minutes more television per month than they did a year ago. The lion's share of the increase is, not surprisingly, tied to more viewing on mobile devices and online, but even good old TV sets showed a small jump.

This says to me that people optimize their viewing behavior in the same way that the transformation of the High Line has optimized the NYC landscape. They're recapturing time they might have spent watching ads, and using it to watch more television. Like the stressed-out city dweller who has a new oasis in the midst of urban chaos, television viewers can now enjoy content that -- without the time-saving benefits of the DVR -- they might not have had time to experience. 

Ad-skipping is of course a tough pill to for networks to swallow, but there is a silver lining here: the fact that consumers are watching more and more diverse programming. For advertisers, this means it's more important than ever to hone their messaging and the placement of their ads so that they can find the right audience for their brands.

The High Line turned one of the city's liabilities into an asset by transforming what was peripheral to something that is premium. DVRs may have been considered by networks to be the old elevated freight line, but by looking at purchaser behavioral data, advertisers can find the right audience and make it their own "High Line." 

Still need to think about it? I suggest a walk on the High Line. 

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2 comments about "What NYC's High Line Tells Us About Time-Shifting ".
  1. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , June 20, 2011 at 2:20 p.m.

    I see some numbers behind this story that tell me something different. If the lion's share of increased viewing is through mobile devices or online, are people really watching more TV? It sounds to me like they are watching more video content, not necessarily TV. So, is a TV for watching TV, or is it another viewing device for video?

    To me, a DVR is as good a device for archiving time. And, as we know, once something is archived, the pressure to watch it is off. I'm not sure Nielsen data is reliable enough to accurately measure these changes in viewing habits. Their history shows a vested interest in providing numbers that enable higher network TV ad budgets.

  2. Mark Lieberman from TRA , June 21, 2011 at 10:19 a.m.

    You may be right. However, and though I'm hardly in a position to defend Nielsen’s numbers, in this case I can draw the same conclusions from our own proprietary data. While alternative-device viewing is on the rise, I do believe that traditional TV in-home viewing is at least flat if not slightly up.