Study: DVRs give TV shows big boost

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NEW YORK -- Some of TV's biggest shows ("House," "Lost") and some of its smallest ("The Office," "Friday Night Lights") are benefiting significantly from the impact of DVRs, according to data released Wednesday by Nielsen Media Research.

Fox's "House" and ABC's "Lost" led a recent week in increases in absolute viewers, with "House" gaining 2.7 million viewers in DVR playback -- on top of the 19 million who watched the show live -- and "Lost" adding 2.5 million to its 10.8 million viewers seeing the show when it first aired for the week ending April 8.

NBC's "Office" was the leader in terms of a percentage gain, jumping 31% from 5.8 million viewers to 7.6 million viewers. Other shows -- including "Lost" and Fox's "24" and "Prison Break" -- did well in DVR playback that week. So, too, did an NBC show that has struggled to find a following: "Friday Night Lights" saw a 17% jump in viewership from 4.9 million to 5.7 million viewers that week.

The data has been available to networks and ad buyers since the season began, though Wednesday was the first time that Nielsen Media Research released the time-shifted data publicly. DVR homes now represent about 16% of the nation's TV households.

Other shows doing well included "American Idol," "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Survivor: Fiji" and "Desperate Housewives," which also are among the top shows on TV. "Grey's Anatomy" was in repeat that week or else it would have been high on the list, according to TV executives who have seen the season-to-date data.

"It's definitely consistent with what we've seen and with the overall argument that we've been making with the introduction of DVRs: that the big programs will get bigger in the DVR environment," said CBS Vision president and CBS research chief David Poltrack.

The DVR playback data is bound to become a major contention point in this year's upfront negotiations, where billions of dollars are riding on whether the networks will get paid for viewing that takes place beyond the live mode that is currency now. It also will have an impact on the move toward average commercial ratings, which will help advertisers know how much of their commercials are being seen by viewers. Nielsen studies say that about 50% of commercials are fast-forwarded during DVR playback.

"The people who delay viewing aren't always fast-forwarding through commercials, but nobody wants to give us credit for that," said Preston Beckman, executive vp program planning at Fox Broadcasting. "Hopefully that will be rectified when we go to commercial minute ratings."

The fact that "Office" gets a huge percentage boost in DVR playback isn't lost on NBC.

"Basically, we're using a currency that is live, and we don't capture that post-live viewing. Basically a third of its rating occurs after live (viewing)," NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel said. "Obviously, that's serious money."

The same thinking could save a low-rated show like "Friday Night Lights."

"Clearly it's a show that is struggling to find its audience, yet when you look at the total viewing, there's 16% or 17% of viewing that you never see in the live viewing (data)," Wurtzel said.

The Hollywood Reporter is owned by the Nielsen Group, parent company of Nielsen Media Research.
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