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Has DVR Usage Made TV Commercials Obsolete?

DVR usage has grown over 90% from May 2007 to May 2010, with DVR playback almost doubling in the past two years.  The number of people who have a DVR still varies greatly by market, ranging from 26.5% to 47.1% in the top markets.

So with the widespread usage of DVRs and expected continued growth, are TV commercials obsolete? The answer is a resounding No.  While the media mix for advertisers is changing to include more social media and two way conversations, TV commercials remain one of the most effective ways to advertise for many business categories.

Do people with DVRs even watch the commercials? You might be surprised to find 40-50% of those who watch a watch the entire program, including TV commercials. I have a friend who doesn’t like to fast forward through the commercials; for him, it “messes with the flow” of the program. I’m in the “fast forwarder” group: so does this group see the commercials? There are studies that confirm commercials that are fast-forwarded are seen and have good recall.  The theory on this is you have to pay even closer attention to the commercials so you stop the fast forward in time to not miss any of your show. I couldn’t agree more—I’ve even found myself repeating lines from commercials while fast forwarding through them!

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Advertisers might worry whether time sensitive messages will still work in this new DVR world. Get this, 61% of DVR playback occurs on the same day, with 90% of viewing being done within 3 days of the recording.  I’ve found being a busy professional who gets home late, I no longer worry that a late dinner and workout will interrupt my shows (I am a bit of a TV addict).  I can flip on my DVR when I’m ready and watch my 8p show at 8:30p. I’m in the 42% who watch their program in the same hour.

Down to business, what does this mean for ratings? The Nielsen live TV measurement is not 100% on point anymore as it does not include the DVR usage viewing, so the live numbers reported fall shy of actual viewing. Primetime now has 1/5 to 1/3 of playback on DVR for the networks and cable prime is 1 out of 10. The DVR viewers are also younger and have a higher income.

Hmmm…When will we see commercials designed to be viewed on a DVR or specifically geared to this DVRs with a message? A great example would be a commercial with graphics that works without sound. Glad you got a chance to watch your show? We’ve been waiting for you…

Source:  Nielsen 2010 analysis of live and same day ratings.

Author: Jeanne Frazer heads up marketing speaker author, a group that provides marketing speakers, writers, coaches and mentors with expertise in all facets of marketing across numerous industries for events, seminars and workshops. Frazer is also president of vitalink® a creative + strategic marketing think tank, and strategic partner for Lawyers Marketing Agency.  Jeanne may be reached at or 919.850.0605.

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