Who's Watching Those Commercials Anyway?

My family has an ongoing routine when we go to the movies.  When the commercials come on before the show, my wife and I invariably comment on one that we’ve never seen.  My 17-year-old son informs us that this commercial has been on TV for at least a year.  Before I can respond, he says, “I know, dad, you DVR everything and fast-forward through the commercials.”   

I find it fascinating that he and his friends actually like watching commercials.  When my 80-year-old mother-in-law joins us at the movies, she, like my son, has seen most of the commercials (she watches a lot of live TV during the day, mostly syndicated morning talk shows and off-network repeats on ION or USA).

My son, of course, is largely correct.  My wife and I DVR most of our prime-time viewing and fast-forward through the commercials during playback.  

There are a number of reasons why we do this.  For shows with continuing action-packed storylines (like “24 Legacy”), we like to store two or three episodes to watch in one sitting -- which means one or more of the episodes is viewed beyond Nielsen’s typical 7-day window.  



Sometimes, my wife and I are not always ready to watch TV at the same time, so I’ll DVR shows we like watching together (like “This Is Us”) for later viewing. Typically we will watch these within a day or two of the initial broadcast.  Sometimes there are series my wife doesn’t want to watch with me (like “Into the Badlands”), which I will record so I can watch when my wife is not available – I watch these anytime from the same day it’s recorded to a month later.   

There are certain types of shows we tend to watch live, just like most DVR owners: sports, news, late night, award shows, and off-network repeats.

I often see data that shows DVR usage is not that significant across the entire day, accounting for less than 10% of total rating points.  During prime time, however, it is massive, particularly for original scripted series. Consider that more than 40% of adults 18-49 or 25-54 still do not own a DVR. Despite this, the average original scripted series (on both broadcast and cable) has half its total U.S. audience through DVR playback. That means, on average, more than 80% of viewing of original scripted series among DVR owners is time-shifted.  

And we know from virtually every study that’s ever been done on time-shifted viewing, at least two-thirds of commercials are fast-forwarded during DVR playback.  
That’s an awful lot of commercial avoidance — from these series’ core, most loyal viewers.

C3, C7, and the newly released 35 days of delayed viewing do nothing to deal with the issue of commercial avoidance.  Nor do they do anything to help measure how much fast-forwarding is actually taking place.  This should continue to be the biggest concern among TV advertisers and those who research or measure TV viewing. 

5 comments about "Who's Watching Those Commercials Anyway? ".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 15, 2017 at 6:05 p.m.

    Steve, I agree with you that the assumption by the TV is dying people that nobody watches any commercials is a myth and way overstates the case. One question. While it was commonly accepted that about 65-70% of the delayed primetime broadcast network show  episodes featured the "zapping" of an average commercial at the outset, when early adopters got their DVRs, I keep hearing that as DVR ownership expanded to around 50%, that this figure has dropped to about 50%, currently. Have you any new Nielsen data on this?

  2. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, March 15, 2017 at 8:17 p.m.

    Ed, every research I have seen shows more than 70% fast-forwarding.  I conducted my own research less than 3 years ago that indicated 75% of playback fast-forwarded through commercials. I am not aware of any    Nielsen data on the subject. I've been asking Nielsen for years to address the topic.  I believe if you do calculations based on Nielsen's live and live + 7 ratings you can arrive at the 50% figure that you've heard about, but that is not accurate. 

  3. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 15, 2017 at 8:23 p.m.

    Thanks, Steve. I'll see if I can pin down some of my sources to see if they are referring to an average ad in a break and how the percentage was arrived at.

  4. Steve Sternberg from The Sternberg Report, March 16, 2017 at 2:10 p.m.

    Let me know Ed.  Thanks.

  5. John Harpur from Yellow Submarine, March 16, 2017 at 5:22 p.m.

    As another compulsive commercial avoider family, we virtually fast forward every commercial break. The only times we will not, are when the other commercial avoidance factors take over: distraction (nose in the smart phone) or room leaving (Ed's other hot buttons). And we record or delay viewing for sports and award shows; the goal to catch up to live by the end of the game/show. And when we are watching live for some unavoidable reason, my wife, not me, will hit the remote every time.

    At least on the national/network level, the Nielsen measurements provide some insight into commercial viewing. For local spot buyers, we are stuck with program ratings and the local stations make no adjustments for commercial viewing loss due to DVR because no one holds them accountable.

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