The First DVR Dominant Upfront

In today’s DVR dominant world, the only “appointment television” taking place during prime time is when the “season pass” is being set on the DVR. “Spoiler alerts” are commonplace in our vernacular thanks to the DVR, and the only real “appointment television” for marketers and their messages is those watched live.

For the first time in upfront history, DVR penetration could be more than 50% among 18-49s, the demographic that many television marketers use as a buying metric.

DVR penetration is already significantly higher at 65% for people with household income of $60K+, those planning to buy a car in the next year or for those who own a tablet computer. Marketers across all categories need to recognize and address the impact that DVRs are making and it’s important to take stock of what we have learned in the four years since Nielsen’s meaningful measurement began.

Audiences have taken control of their nighttime entertainment TV viewing, leaving marketers to adapt to this change. Live viewership of network prime sitcoms and dramas has declined by almost 20% over the past four years.  As live viewership declines, there is a 50% increase in the contribution of commercial playback of recorded programs.



Yet marketers shouldn’t count on playback. Nielsen reports that network prime-time performance in commercial playback is a 50/50 proposition with half of commercials being skipped.

An SNTA analysis of commercial playback shows that the preponderance of network prime-time commercials viewed are those that air in the first commercial minute of the pod.  That’s problematic as two thirds of commercials air outside of the first commercial minute in network prime and nearly 75% air outside the first minute in cable prime.  And we all know that network promotional messages never run in the middle of the pod.

Commercial playback has slowed as well, with live + same day viewership dropping sic percentage points to 82%.  While this is only a 7% decline over the last two years, the magnitude is significant for timed messages like movie openings, a price point promotion for a restaurant or a one day retail event.  

This does not mean that television’s impact is diminished.  In fact, numerous studies show that television continues to be the dominant force in driving sales.  Marketers operating in a DVR dominant environment, enhance the impact of their television communications by following four approaches:

  1. Look for programs with high live viewing.  Only with live viewing can a marketer ensure that their commercials are viewed in a timely manner and not electronically skipped.  Sports and Syndicated Television are great ways to achieve 90%+ live viewership.
  2. Understand Commercial Formatting.  The first commercial minute drives commercial viewership; even in DVR playback.  The first commercial minute has the additional benefit of providing considerably higher recall.  This is an area where constant management of your schedule can provide real benefits. 
  3. Run in short pods and avoid long ones.  Long pods are an invitation to hit the remote.  Conversely, short pods with their inherently lower clutter better deliver from a recall perspective and these pods need to be sought out.
  4. Merge the message with the content.  This can be accomplished though integrations in the content or extending the programming into the marketing message. Proprietary research identifies that natural and appropriate placements can drive awareness, likeability, persuasiveness, and even store traffic in a cost effective manner.

It is amazing that DVR penetration has accelerated so quickly, jumping from 7% to 50% in just six years.  DVRs enhance the viewer's experience and allow them to enjoy a broader spectrum of content that brought them to the television in the first place.  By following the above approaches, marketers can prevail over the DVR’s dominance, rather than surrender to a consumer that endeavors to avoid your valuable messages.

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