In DVR homes, the lastest research indicates viewers tend to watch fewer syndicated shows with the commercials and more network shows without the commercials.
Hadassah Gerber, the research chief at the Syndicated Network Television Association, pitched the following: Syndicated shows offer advertisers good value in the world of digital video recorders (DVRs) because viewers who watch syndicated programs, for the most part, don’t record them and thus do not skip the advertising.
“Syndication best retains the program audience [for commercials],”Gerber says. “Syndicated programs retain three to four times the audience of network or cable.”
Eighteen to 49 year olds in DVR households end up watching 92% of the commercials in syndicated programs, but only 68% of the commercials in primetime shows, according to the SNTA research, which is based on May 2006 averages.
To underscore the point, consider it from a different angle: In Nielsen homes with Tivo-branded DVRs, 79% of viewers watch syndicated programs live, while only 48% watch network primetime live. That’s looking at average audience numbers from October 2005 through May 2006.
Is Gerber right? Could DVRs actually be good for syndication?
I ran the study by CBS research guru David Poltrack. It’s true, he says, that audiences watch more commercials during syndicated programs in DVR homes, and that is good news for syndication. But, he adds, people who have DVRs watch less syndicated programming. The average 18-49 syndication rating among total Nielsen households in May was a 0.7. In DVR homes, that average dropped to a 0.5.
That’s not the case with network prime. The average 18-49 live rating of primetime shows among total Nielsen households is a 3.7. The live-plus-seven-day rating in DVR homes is more than a point higher, 4.8. So even though about 60% of people are skipping the ads in these shows when they play them back, according to Poltrack, the networks still are getting a net ratings bump in DVR households.
In other words, the extra audience allowed by the DVRs more than offsets the commercial skipping that audience does.
Poltrack warns against generalizations in syndication. Top syndicated shows, such as King World’s Oprah, do see DVR dividends, he says.
“Generally with syndication, you have to look at the top shows versus the majority of shows,” he says. “In this particular case, among the top shows that people are recording you see a pattern that is very similar to that of network television. You have an incremental viewer increase that is discounted to a certain extent because of fast forwarding.”
The DVR is a powerful technology, whose impact will grow commensurate with the number of units. By the end of this year, media agency Magna Global predicts there will be DVRs in some 18 million TV households, representing only about 16% of the 110 million TV households in the United States. In four years, that number is expected to grow to 34 million, or 30% of TV households.
All this research shows that the DVR impact is not necessarily negative. Viewers who record primetime network shows may be skipping a lot of the commercials, but they are watching more of the shows. And viewers in DVR homes may be watching less syndicated programming, but when they do it’s live with the commercials.
The research is far from definite. Folks like Gerber and Poltrack will continue to monitor the effects of DVRs. But, in the meantime, if any syndicator thinks the networks have it better, the lesson is clear: More Oprah, less Maury.