Digital video recorders and their ad skipping technology have, until now, been portrayed as grim reapers for traditional television commercials.

Not anymore. It seems DVRs are suddenly the US networks' new best friend. At a conference in New York, Wednesday, execs from the big six - CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, UPN and WB - told anyone who would listen that recording devices were helping to build audiences.

They say their research shows households with DVR technology tend to watch 12% more TV, an increase that offsets the portion of commercials lost to ad skipping. The figures also threw up the surprising statistic that 53% of viewers who fast-forward through commercials go back to watch them.

Nearly 8% of US homes use a DVR, with that number expected to grow to 39% percent by 2010. Acknowledging that trend, Nielsen Media Ratings in January will begin to issue national television ratings that include DVR playbacks within a day of original airing and up to seven days later.

The networks want that time-shifted viewing to be counted by advertisers and agencies and the issue is set to become a hot topic in next year's upfront negotiations on airtime costs.

Says David Poltrack, head of research at CBS: "For most of the top television programs, the audience will be greater for these programs as DVR penetration increases. The DVR is going to increase viewership to major network television programs."

However, counters product placement specialist Tom Meyers, even if significant numbers of DVR owners watch ads, networks still need to generate additional forms of revenue.

He says: "It's a fact that consumers are using technology to evade advertising. Advertisers pay for on-air mentions because they want to make sure that consumers are taking in their message and not zipping through it."

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff