NEW YORK: The Nielsen Company last week underscored the ubiquity of Oscar Wilde's maxim: "The truth is rarely pure, and never simple" - a fact that came across loud and clear during the firm's presentation to US national TV networks on the variations in the way viewers use digital video recorders.

The variances depend on how soon after the original telecast viewers play back the recording, also the genre of the programming watched. Currently, some 20% of US households own a DVR or similar device - a percentage expected to grow rapidly over the next few years.

Nielsen's data may therefore herald a sea-change in the way TV ad slots are bought and sold in the new digital era.

Key points emerging from the company's presentation were:

  • Playback that occurs closest to the original telecast retains more of the audience during commercials than DVR playback that occurs further out.

  • Certain genres such as sports and news have higher levels of live viewing, with DVR playback occurring closer to the original telecast than average.

  • During the first 27 hours after being recorded in households with DVRs, primetime broadcast commercials gain 16% in ratings among viewers age 18-49, with the total increase reaching 22% after seven days. This compares to a 35% increase in ratings for broadcast programs during the 27 hours immediately after the original telecast; and a total increase of 47% after seven days.

  • Among 18-34 year old viewers in DVR households, virtually all sports and news DVR playback occurs within the same day, 85% of playback for daytime dramas occurs within the same day and about 75% of playback of sitcoms and primetime dramas occurs within the same day.

  • Households with DVRs watch significantly less live television than households without DVRs, but most of that difference is made up after seven days of DVR playback.

  • DVR viewing of primetime broadcast programming is a communal experience. 54% of people watching DVR playback are watching with someone else, versus 46% who are viewing alone. This compares to a 50/50 breakdown among viewers of live programming.

  • DVR owners are younger, better educated and have higher incomes than the average US household.

  • The ratings contribution of VCRs continues to decline. VCR recording contributed 2.4% of total broadcast primetime ratings in January 2007, compared to 3.1% in January 2006, although it is higher (5.4%) during weekday afternoons.
According to Sara Erichson, general manager, national services at Nielsen Media Research: "New digital technologies are changing the way people watch television and Nielsen is committed to helping clients understand and measure this new viewing behaviour."

Nielsen additionally reported that . . .
  • 19% of households have at least one Personal Video Device. The largest penetration is for portable DVD players (10% of households) and video enabled cell phones (5% of households). Only 4% of households own a video-enabled iPod or MP3 player.

  • Playing video on a personal device has not yet become an ingrained habit. Even among PVD owners, about two-thirds say that it has been more than a week since they watched something on their portable player.

  • About a third of iPod owners played a video file during the 4th quarter of 2006. 40% of those users who played video do not own a video iPod, meaning they are watching the video clips through iTunes on their personal computer.

  • Even among iTunes video users, 95% of all daily playback time (50 minutes and 30 seconds) is audio. The average iTunes video user plays video files only two and a half minutes per day.

  • Users of personal video devices tend to have higher incomes, more education and larger families.
The findings were presented at Nielsen's annual meeting of national clients in Orlando, Florida.

Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff