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October 13, 2012

DVR viewing gives fall TV shows a critical ratings boost


Executives worried for years — and still do — that DVRs’ ability to skip ads can lower prices for commercial time, the sale of which enables broadcast networks to pay the bills. But the devices are also having a halo effect on ratings, especially for scripted comedies and dramas. Increasingly, viewers use their flat-screens to watch, say, NFL games or the Emmys in real time and then stash everything else on their DVRs to watch later at their convenience.

Network bosses have created a euphemism for the latter, calling it “DVR lift.”

“The ‘appointment-viewing’ thing has all gone away, except for live events and sports,” said Christine Chen, director of communication strategy at ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco.

NBC’s “Revolution” is a case in point. Last month’s premiere drew 9.2 million total viewers — a respectable if unexciting figure. But once viewers who watched over the next three days were thrown in, the total leaped 40 percent to 12.9 million.

To NBC executives, that sounds like a hit.

“‘Revolution’ is a real number, especially if you look at the DVR numbers,” said Jeff Bader, the longtime scheduling chief NBC recently hired away from ABC.

But trying to decipher those ratings can befuddle even the professionals. Executives have to sift through Nielsen numbers that count viewers on the night a program airs as well as viewing within three days and within a week.

Other figures, designed to overcome advertisers’ objections about ad-skipping, estimate how many viewers watched the entire program without fast-forwarding through commercials. And more data may be on the way: Executives say they still lack reliable intelligence on how many watch digital services such as Netflix.

“On any given day, we’re now getting five data sets released to us,” said CBS scheduling guru Kelly Kahl. “It’s definitely a new world in terms of how you look at the ratings.”

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