Television ratings make or break television shows, network executives, and well, even the networks themselves. But with more and more home viewers using Digital Video Recorders, like TiVo and similar services provided by their cable and satellite services, and watching shows when they want, and not at the time they are actually broadcast, the next-day ratings don't mean nearly as much as they used to. A recent fascinating story from Variety outlined how the networks have forever changed how they evaluate shows in light of the increased usage of DVRs.
"We're going to see a tremendous boost when the (DVR) numbers come back," says ABC research senior VP Mike Mellon -- who expects "Grey's Anatomy" to grow by a full ratings point, for starters
"This is a whole new world, and anyone who doesn't understand that is behind the times," he says. "I recognize that everyone wants to understand what their performance is quickly, but the days of having a single number that reflects a show's performance are over."
Biggest factor in the new Nielsen paradigm is digital video recorders, which have become increasingly common in TV homes -- and are thus having a greater impact on viewership. Last season, about 9% of the Nielsen sample included DVR homes; this season, the number has doubled to roughly 20%.
The new metric for television shows is not the "overnight" ratings which have been king for years, but a new "Live +7" designation, which measures how many people watch a given show within seven days of its original broadcast. And the early results, for the week before the official 2007 television season began, but which included a number of season and series premieres, showed that DVR usage indeed provided the large boost networks were expecting. According to a CBS press release, posted at the great TV news website The Futon Critic Survivor was DVR'd and watched by over 2 million additional viewers in the seven days after its original broadcast. Prison Break added 1.5 million viewers to its season premiere, a huge increase for a show which many critics have criticized so far for its ratings erosion. When looking at the DVR numbers, though, the show is not fading nearly as quickly as first believed. The top ten of DVR'd shows included:
1. Survivor: China - CBS 2.116 million additional viewers
2 Family Guy- FOX 1.843 million additional viewers
3 Prison Break- FOX 1.546 million additional viewers
4 Back To You- FOX 1.456 million additional viewers
5 Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice Clip Show ABC 1.256 million additional viewers
6 Big Brother 8 - CBS 1.249 million additional viewers
7 Simpsons- FOX 1.089 million additional viewers
8 Kid Nation- CBS 1.006 million additional viewers
9 K-Ville- FOX 993,000 additional viewers
10 Shark CBS 982,000 additional viewers
Next week, when the "Live+7" results are released for the first official week of the television season, we may see an even greater impact of DVRs. But as these first numbers show, the television landscape, and how shows are judged, may never be the same.