June 12, 2009

The Revolution That Never Happened

If you're a frequent reader of this blog you know that one of our ongoing themes is that marketers and advertisers always overestimate the appeal of new things and underestimate the power of traditional consumer behavior.

This is one of the reasons there is always so much hyperventilating about every new thing that comes along.

A very good example of this is TiVo.

TiVo looked like a slam-dunk from the minute it was announced. How could it not be in every home? How could it not destroy the tv ad industry?

And yet, 11 years later, the impact of the DVR on television viewing and advertising has been modest, if not marginal.

DVR's are now in a little over 1 in 4 homes. However, the real story is not how many homes they are in, but how often they are used.

Two recent studies agree that about 5% of total tv viewing is DVR playback.

A study by Ball State University found that the average adult was exposed to 324 minutes of tv a day, 15 of which were DVR playback. That comes to 4.6 percent.

A study by Nielsen showed that Americans averaged 153 hours of tv watching a month during the first quarter of this year, 8 of which were DVR playback. That comes to 5.2%. (Of course, Nielsen stuck to the narrative that the media has all agreed on, and instead of pointing out that 95% of viewing was live tv, they asserted that DVR viewing had "soared" -- soared to 5%!)

Ten years ago, if you would have said that DVR viewing would represent only 5% of total viewing today, you would have been called a fool and a Luddite.

Although the Ball State and Nielsen numbers are remarkably close, I trust the first set a little more, even though the sample is smaller. The Nielsen numbers are self-reported, which I never trust. The Ball State numbers are based on actual observed behavior.

If you believe the estimate that people with DVRs skip ads about 50-60% of the time when they time-shift, then less than 3% of total ads are being missed.

One of the interesting things about DVRs is that the early adopters bought the machines for convenience and specifically to skip ads. Newer adopters are different. Many are getting a DVR because it is bundled with their digital cable box.

In other words, the early owners of DVRs are probably the heaviest time-shifters. As DVR penetration grows, the incidence of time-shifting and ad-skipping per DVR user may actually drop.

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