Nielsen devised three streams of data: "live," "live plus same-day DVR viewing," and "live plus seven days of DVR viewing." The networks look to the last category to yield the biggest viewer gains -- and hence higher ad revenues.
The "live plus seven days" segment was released in mid-January for the first week of included-included measurement, Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. The findings revealed that three shows in the top 25 -- "CSI," "My Name Is Earl," and "Law & Order" -- showed tiny increases of around one-tenth of a rating point in viewers ages 18 to 49. CBS' "CSI" showed the biggest gain -- up to 9,834,000 viewers ages 18 to 49, an increase of 1.4 percent. That correspondingly raised its rating in that age range from 5.3 to 5.4.
Analysts see some of the increases as a result of hotly contested time slots. For example, viewers who like both "Law & Order" and "CSI: New York," which both air Wednesday nights at 10 p.m., may have recorded one and watched the other one live.
But media agencies aren't reading too much into the numbers. "It's a benchmark," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president, director of research, Horizon Media, New York. "At some point down the road, you'll have a better idea of what to expect."
There were some glitches with the data: A number of shows tallied more viewers in the "live and same day" category than the "live and seven day" category. That doesn't make sense: Viewers with seven days to record and watch a show should outnumber those with just one day.
Media analysts say the numbers should be viewed with a mathematician's eye, since the changes are within the so-called "standard rate of error." This is due partly to the fact that there are only some 65 homes with DVRs out of nearly 10,000 included in Nielsen's National People Meter household sample. Nielsen says it's working toward a goal of nearly 800 DVR homes for its panel.