Nielsen: DVRs behind viewer drop

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NEW YORK -- Nielsen Media Research said Thursday that the impact of digital video recorders is a leading cause of why television viewing dropped precipitously this year.

Many of the top shows -- from ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" to Fox's "American Idol" to CBS' "CSI" -- saw their ratings drop in the spring.

Prompted this month by questions from NBC, Nielsen began an investigation into the factors that could have led to the slide. Nielsen's probe is almost complete, but in the meantime the company has discovered several things.

"DVRs appear to be the largest factor in that," said Pat McDonough, Nielsen senior vp planning policy and analysis.

But there are other factors in Nielsen's early findings, among them the difference between an Olympic year (2006) and a non-Olympic year (2007) as well as a higher number of repeat programs this spring than in previous years.

Nielsen also said that, ahead of this year's upfront negotiations, it would offer average commercial minute ratings in an electronic file that includes shows from April 30 forward and the six streams that includes live, live-plus-same-day DVR playback and live-plus-1, 2, 3 and 7 DVR playback.

The ratings measure the audience for commercials during a given program, excluding the program itself as well as any public service announcements, promotions or other noncommercial time. TV networks and ad agencies traditionally use program ratings to approximate commercial ratings, but now with the weekly data they'll be able to come closer than ever before, said Sara Erichson, executive vp client services at Nielsen.

Nielsen also released data that said NBC's "The Office" topped the week of April 30 for commercial viewing on DVRs compared with live viewing. Also scoring higher were Fox's "Family Guy" and "Bones," the CW's "Smallville" and "Grey's."

Nielsen found that 58% of broadcast prime viewing during that week among adults 18-49 in DVR households was live, compared with 85% for cable primetime and 84% for syndicated. The majority (95%-99%) of viewing of all types was done within the first 75 hours of original air, which is covered by the live-plus-3 system.

The Hollywood Reporter and Nielsen Media Research are both owned by the Nielsen Company.
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