Nets To Madison Avenue: DVRs Are Good, Seriously
The networks' position, which was backed up by an amalgam of recent research on DVR usage including data from Arbitron's portable people meter test, a Nielsen/TiVo study, and proprietary CBS panel research, is that DVRs are becoming more "mainstream" and integrated into American TV lifestyles and that the new viewing patterns are nothing like the "rabid" behavior of the device's early adopters. The networks also claimed that DVRs represents a net gain for network TV, not a reduced value in audience exposure.
"We saw a big lift," declared Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC, noting that popular network TV shows tend to be the most recorded and played-back content among DVR users, creating and opportunity for viewers to see more of the shows they would otherwise miss.
"We're just capturing more viewing," he said, adding, "What gets hurt? We don't know exactly yet, but probably it's the lowest-rated, least objectionable programming."
It's not just high-rated network shows that benefit from DVR playbacks, said the network research chiefs, but lower-rated shows that may be the victim of scheduling conflicts with stronger shows. For example, Dave Poltrack, executive vice president-research and planning at CBS, noted that WB's "Smallville," which is scheduled opposite CBS' "Survivor," gets a significant lift from DVR playback.
What the network researchers did not directly address is what the explicit policies of network sales departments would be in their negotiations with advertisers and agencies when Nielsen introduces DVR playback ratings Dec. 26. But they at least implied it would be based on the inclusion of as much DVR playback data as possible.
"From a research perspective, we believe that all audiences should count," said CBS' Poltrack, adding, "Some audiences are more valuable than others, but you have to start with measuring and capturing all audiences possible. That is what we are going to use for the official scorecard for measuring this season."
NBC's Wurtzel also deferred an explicit sales policy to NBC's sales management, describing it as the "800 pound gorilla" in the room during Wednesday's press briefing that the research execs could not address directly.
But at least one network research chief, ABC Senior Vice President-Research Mike Mellon, implied his network would at least be willing to deal with agencies and advertisers on a case-by-case basis depending on their unique marketing needs.
For example for movie advertisers and big department store retailers, which buy advertising for short-term specific sale dates, he didn't think it appropriate to make certain advertisers adhere to the 'live plus seven days" data.
"For example, for a Sears two-day sale [commercial], a spot running three days later would not be good," said Mellon.
But for the majority of advertisers there would be an advantage, he said, citing instances where even hardcore "Lost" fans watch only 10 of 22 episodes live. Why, he asks, wouldn't an advertiser want to get viewers who also record and watch those episodes some days later--even accounting for viewers who fast-forward through some commercials? "You want to reach as many people as people," said Mellon. "It's incremental to live viewing. We're all about reach and frequency." Agency executives were far less sanguine, reaffirming that "live" ratings are Madison Avenue's official position.
"It really is very difficult to accept the broadcasters' position," said Jim Kite, executive vice president-research, insight & accountability at MediaVest. "Ask anyone who has a DVR and watches a program in playback mode and they fast-forward the commercials. We think in the region of 70-90 percent of the time. The stats they presented defy logic. We are very confident that the vast majority of top up DVR ratings will be programming, not commercial, driven."
"I'm on the side of live because you can't zap live viewing," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president-corporate research director for Horizon Media, adding that the networks' research position was just the beginning, not the end of the DVR viewing debate.
"Somewhere down the road the industry is going to have to determine what constitutes is a DVR rating. This is the beginning of the negotiations," he predicted.