DVRs Dramatically Altering Fall TV Battleground

The Voice Battles Day One - H 2012

The Voice Battles Day One - H 2012

Fox goes young, "The Voice" powers NBC, and ABC struggles out of the gate as time-shifting alters the battleground as never before.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The 2012-13 television season is shaping up as the year the DVR finally hits the tipping point. Sure, younger viewers have been crafting their own schedules via streaming, on-demand, delayed and DVD viewing. But this season, new and returning shows are adding significant audiences as nearly 46 percent of U.S. households now have a DVR (up from 42 percent last season). The second episode of NBC's Revolution jumped more than 50 percent to a 5.2 rating among adults 18-to-49 with three days of delayed viewing; the premiere of CBS' Vegas grew 28 percent to a 3.2; and ABC's Modern Family season bow increased 33 percent to a 7.3 rating. Compared with premiere week last year (excluding sports and Saturday), the four networks' aggregate three-day lift totaled 41 percent among the 18-to-49 set. "Good news for broadcasters," says David Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS, "because sampling is what it's all about." Here's how the networks are doing:

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FOX As it was last season, much of Fox's buzz has been about The X Factor; the show is down 12 percent in the demo through the first eight episodes, and executive producer and star Simon Cowell even called for a summit of sorts with rival The Voice. Neither The Mindy Project nor Ben and Kate is attracting large audiences, though Mindy is the top-rated new half-hour among viewers 18-to-34. Both fell below a 2 rating during the second week of the new season, marking double-digit week-over-week declines, though DVR playback bumped both shows up. On Oct. 8, Fox ordered additional episodes of each, giving the network its first live-action comedy block in recent memory. Like New Girl, both programs have a median viewer age in the 30s, notes Brad Adgate, senior vp at Horizon Media.

"If Fox can get a programming block where half the audience is under 40, in this day and age, that's an accomplishment," he says. "It's not necessarily the quantity of viewers, it's the quality." New drama The Mob Doctor is at the opposite end of the age continuum: It has been DOA since its premiere, averaging a 1.3 rating over three episodes Mondays at 9 p.m. "That's a show that's probably in imminent danger," says Adgate.

NBC Top-rated Sunday Night Football and the first fall iteration of The Voice helped deliver NBC a first-place finish in the 18-to-49 demo for the first two weeks of the new season -- the first time the network has accomplished such a feat since 2003, when Friends, Will & Grace and Frasier were on the air. Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams' post-apocalyptic Revolution is the top-rated new show of the season, averaging a 3.6 rating post-Voice on Mondays. It's also the most DVR'd show in NBC history; for its second episode, it grew almost 2 ratings points with three days of delayed viewing. And it has improved the network's average in the time slot by more than 100 percent when compared with the quickly axed The Playboy Club. Comedies Go On (starring Matthew Perry) and The New Normal are performing OK (averaging a 2.9 and 2.2, respectively), prompting NBC to pick up full seasons of both (and Revolution too). However, Guys With Kids, produced by Jimmy Fallon, and Animal Practice ­­(featuring the network's highest-testing star in Crystal the capuchin monkey) are limping along.

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ABC The network finished premiere week in fourth place in the 18-to-49 demo. Alien comedy The Neighbors -- a recipient of some of this season's worst reviews -- notched a big opening thanks to a Modern Family lead-in but tumbled 40 percent in its second outing to a 1.9 rating. New drama 666 Park Avenue, paired on Sunday nights with Revenge, slid 18 percent from its premiere, though it still beat CBS' NFL-delayed combination of The Good Wife and The Mentalist for both of their outings. Last Resort, the Andre Braugher drama about a rogue submarine captain, has the misfortune to be badly scheduled (8 p.m. Thursday against The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men on CBS and X Factor on Fox). It's also a male-targeted show on a network that has had difficulty attracting men. The drama is averaging a 2.1 rating in its time slot, only besting NBC's comedies. "They might be patient with it because it's different," says Horizon's Adgate. At press time, the network had yet to bow the Connie Britton drama Nashville, its most-promoted new series of the fall, which debuts Oct. 10 after ABC's best adrenaline shot: two original episodes of Modern Family.

CBS Having successfully launched 2 Broke Girls last season and Mike & Molly the season before, CBS might need to come up with a new comedy to complete its Monday four-comedy block. Judged on its own, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan's Partners is doing fine, averaging a 2.2 rating in the 18-to-49 demographic. But that's considerably lower than the rest of CBS' formidable Monday comedy block.

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However, new dramas Vegas and Elementary are besting the competition in their respective 10 p.m. slots, notable at that hour because the DVR has zapped a considerable amount of live viewing. The network's third drama, Made in Jersey, has so far failed to establish itself on Friday nights, where CBS has had success with Blue Bloods. In its second week, Jersey only managed to muster a 0.8 in the 18-to-49 demo. Cancellation could be near.

Poltrack points out that the DVR also might be moving the goalposts on Fridays. "By the time you get to Friday night," he says, "you've got a hell of a lot of stuff on your DVR."