It has taken three weeks, but on Monday television networks finally found out how many people were really watching during the week their shows began new seasons. The bottom line: more viewers for most shows, especially the hits and those that appeal to younger viewers.
Nielsen Media Research released figures for delayed viewing, and for most television shows the numbers rose, with some adding three million or four million viewers in recorded playback. Other shows had especially big percentage increases among the young viewer categories, an audience that would be most expected to use digital video recorders.
That point was illustrated by the performance of several shows on the youth-oriented CW network, which posted the highest percentage increases in younger-viewer categories.
Because the delayed viewing is still of questionable value to advertisers, who suspect many viewers avoid commercials during playback, the information is so far mostly of value in determining how often viewers are using DVRs to be sure they do not miss their favorite shows — and which programs are important enough for viewers to watch playbacks at a later time.
In general, the results include many predictable elements: the most popular shows in the traditional ratings published by Nielsen the day after the shows are broadcast, like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “House,” tend to have the biggest overall increases in delayed viewing.
Popular shows that face off at the same hour, like “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC and “The Office” on NBC, both on Thursday nights at 9, are most frequently recorded, because many viewers would like to see both.
Weaker shows are not often recorded, and suffer because strong shows are being replayed in their time periods; the least recorded of all are, as most in the television business would expect, live sports programs. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” for example, had barely a change at all in its audience, adding just 10,000 viewers.
In contrast, the premiere of “Grey’s Anatomy” added more than 4.2 million viewers in playback, while “House,” on Fox, added more than 3.7 million.
But in the age group networks most care about, viewers ages 18 to 49, the percentage of improvement was striking for some shows.
For example, “Heroes” on NBC, which slid in its premiere ratings this year as compared with its live performance last year, had many of those viewers return when DVR playback was included.
“Heroes” increased 42 percent in its 18-to-49 rating from a 4.26 live rating to a 6.05 after seven days worth of playback, adding about 2.4 million in total playback (some of that was counted in the next day’s totals, which now give results for live viewing plus recorded playback on the same day).
“The Office” had an even higher percentage, increasing 48 percent, adding 2.5 million viewers in playback. But the network with the best percentage increases was the one with the smallest overall audience. The CW network had some huge percentage increases. Its new hit “90210,” for example, went up 53 percent in the 18-to-49 group, adding more than 860,000 viewers to its original 1.6 million.
Some other notable results included CBS’s top show in playback, “CSI Miami.” The show added just over two million more viewers to its live numbers. But in the 18-to-49 category the biggest percentage increases on CBS were scored by shows with younger audiences, “Amazing Race” and “How I Met Your Mother,” which were both up about 25 percent, with “Race” adding 900,000 viewers and “How I Met” 1.1 million.
On Fox, the new series “Fringe” looked especially strong among DVR users, adding more than 1.8 million viewers in its 18-to-49 performance, or about 39 percent. On ABC, in contrast, the hit “Dancing With the Stars” was up only about 15 percent, or about 973,000 viewers, among young adults, probably because, like football, it is live, not taped.
The numbers for what is called live-plus-seven days of viewing will not mean more advertising revenue for the networks. Rates are now determined not on program ratings, but on commercial ratings, and those are measured only through three days after the initial telecast, not seven. (The C3 numbers, as they are called, for premiere week will be released Tuesday.)
Alan Wurtzel, the president for research at NBC, said in a telephone interview that the results from premiere week “prove we need a better way to evaluate our performance.” He said DVR penetration is now about 33 percent among 18- to 49-year-olds and viewing shows on recorded playback will only continue to increase.
He called the DVR the “ultimate frenemy” (friend and enemy) because it increases overall viewing and demonstrates that viewers are engaged enough with shows to plan ahead and record them, but “the enemy part is that there is still a lot of commercial avoidance.”
7 months ago