DVR Viewership in Primetime Is Very Consistent 16-17 Percent

Last Updated Oct 21, 2009 12:44 PM EDT

Last week's Nielsen data on how many people were watching TV programs on a time-shifted basis, via DVR (as opposed to online), proved so interesting that an expanded list from my friends at Mediaweek of last week's DVR viewership seemed worth posting. Data from the top 30 DVR-ed primetime programs (as opposed to last week's top ten shows) demonstrates an amazing consistency in what percentage, on average, DVRs their favorite shows rather than watching them live. The average for this group of 30 shows was 16 percent of the overall audience for the program; the list of only the top ten from last week had an average of 17 percent DVR viewership. (Total DVR penetration in the U.S. is approximately 30 percent, which means there's a lot more growth where that came from.)

That's surprising when you think of it. It would seem more likely that shows with smaller audiences would have a much lower percentage of DVR viewership; instead this early data seems to indicate that DVR usage is a consistent behavior instead of being an activity that's mainly isolated to the top shows in the drama genre (more on that below). Below is a chart of the top 30, with percentages calculated by yours truly; more analysis follows the chart:

Here are some further observations:

  • As has been noted by Mediaweek, there's a pile-up of DVR viewership involving Thursday night shows, which basically means that must-see TV has been transformed into must-see-but-not-right-now-TV. Eight of the top 11 shows air on Thursday nights; four in the 9 p.m. slot, and two each at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. After that, there are no Thursday shows in numbers 12 through 30 of the ranking. If increases in time-shifting behavior mean that the time a program airs becomes less important, maybe we'll see some breakup of the old Thursday night dominance (although one reason that that inventory is considered prime is because movie advertisers like to come in full force that night before the weekend movie premieres).
  • DVR use is almost the sole province of dramas. Only four sitcoms -- CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and "The Big Bang Theory", Fox's "Family Guy" and NBC's "The Office" make the list. Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" is the only reality show that made the grade.
  • Compared to a list of the top 30 shows in overall viewers for the week of Oct. 12th (here's a link, but you'll have to scroll way down), only 19 of the top 30 overall are on the DVR top 30. (Note: I'm not sure that the time period measured is precisely the same, but it's still a significant fact that shows with heavy DVR viewership aren't necessarily the same ones that due well in "live" ratings.) Six of the top 30 shows overall last week were reality series that didn't make this list. Throw in a little "60 Minutes" and some baseball and football, and you've got quite a different list.
I should point out that the data above is not the currency on which advertising rates are calculated. The data above is live-plus-seven, which totals both the audience for a show at the time it airs and seven days of DVR viewing. Advertising rates are established using C3, which is live plus the next three days of viewing calculated off how many people viewed the commercials, not the programs.

*Series are ranked by DVR viewers, not total viewers.