TV advertisers learn to cope with DVR

The cast of 'Modern Family' speak during a press tour on August 3, 2009 in Pasadena, California.

This week, the Television Critics Association winter press tour showcases TV shows and the people who make them. It’s meant to woo TV critics, since a good review can help drive audience to a show.

But a show can be a success even if the audience doesn’t watch it live. Almost half of American homes have a DVR, so viewers can record shows and watch them after they air. And advertisers have come around to the concept.

Take the ABC comedy "Modern Family." If you record and watch the show on a DVR like Tivo, the network can still get credit with advertisers.

“If you view that through a DVR recording, within three days of the day that it aired live, you are counted in that audience as long as you watched one commercial within that show,” says Stacey Lynn Schulman, chief research officer with TVB, a trade organization representing local TV stations.

Shows recorded and viewed more than three days after airing do not get counted.

Still, the number of folks watching those recorded shows within three days can add up.

“The time-shifted audience for a ‘Modern Family’ in primetime is larger than most of the top cable entertainment series all together,” says Schulman.

Of course, DVRs have drawbacks. People do skip commercials. But only about half the time. Schulman says studies show that viewers retain information from ads even when they’re viewed in fast-forward. And sometimes people catch a glimpse of a commercial and go back for more.

“When they caught frames of commercials, they might say, ‘yeah, I’m really interested in that movie.’ And they would rewind and watch it,” says Mitch Oscar, a media consultant with Hocus Focus.

Some viewers get tired of trying to speed up and slow down to avoid ads and give the remote a rest.

“People are exhausted from all the mechanics they worked in technology during the day and people are skipping fewer commercials,” says Oscar.

And it’s not just DVRs that get counted toward a show’s rating. Schulman says Nielsen measures TV shows viewed over a computer. But so far, shows seen on a tablet or mobile device are not counted.

Both Schulman and Oscar agree that advertisers would prefer that viewers switch from DVRs to Video-on-Demand, since that service often disables the fast-forward function so you’re stuck watching the commercials.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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