Peacock's Paradox: 'The Office' Proves Bigger Hit On iTunes Than On NBC

by , Mar 24, 2006, 8:00 AM
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A modest hit in its broadcast window, "The Office" continues to attract a significant audience on emerging platforms such as iTunes and DVRs, posing a potentially double-edged sword for NBC.

On iTunes, the show has generated more than a million downloads since it became available in December. NBC believes the iTunes consumption has been a promotional boon, helping increase sampling and then drive satisfied customers to the network for "The Office" on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. At $1.99 a download, it's also given the network some added revenue--although it's unclear how much, since the $2 million or so garnered so far would be split with Apple in some way.

"The Office" also shows no sign of losing steam on iTunes. Last week's episode was the most downloaded video on the service yesterday.

But while the attraction of young, tech-savvy consumers to "The Office" on iTunes may prove to be a benefit, many of their cohorts appear to be watching the show via DVRs, a potential negative since they could be skipping the commercials.

In the most recent data available, "The Office" saw its ratings increase by more than 7 percent in Nielsen's new "live plus seven day" ratings, which measure DVR usage. The March 2 episode posted a 4.2 "live" rating among adults 18 to 49, which jumped to a 4.5 in the "live plus seven day" category. The "live plus seven day" rating adds DVR viewing in the seven days after broadcast to the "live" number.

"The Office" is also a favorite among TiVo users--the Nielsen ratings measure individuals with all types of DVRs--ranking as the 22nd most-recorded show on the service. That's considerably higher than the show's 34th ranking among all broadcast programs this season in the adult 18-to-49 demo.

"The Office" is also moving up faster on the TiVo rankings than any other show in the top-25 except Fox's "Prison Break."

While NBC has sought to minimize the issue of commercial-skipping via DVRs--Alan Wurtzel, NBC Universal's research chief, told advertisers last week that commercial zapping is actually more prevalent in non-DVR homes because of the age-old remote control--advertisers have been sending signals that they intend to make deals based only on "live" ratings.

If "The Office" continues to grow in DVR consumption, NBC could end up in a battle with advertisers over how to attach a value to those added viewers.

In the meantime, NBC is taking steps to capitalize on the appeal of "The Office" outside of Thursday nights. The network will offer 10 webisodes this summer on NBC.com that follow a continuing storyline. The two-minute Webcasts will likely continue to create buzz for the show during the summer break and could provide an avenue for the network to sell online video spots.

"The Office," a moderate hit for NBC, is averaging a 4.1 in the adult 18-to-49 demo for the season, although it has seen ratings rise since it moved from Tuesdays to Thursdays in early January. The show still gets swamped by time-period rival "CSI:" on CBS, but holds on to about 80 percent of its lead-in from first-year sensation "My Name is Earl."

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