Critical Mass Is Mission Critical

Every day we have decisions to make. Some of the most reflexive decisions are those we decide to put off. We tell ourselves “it can wait” or “that may be interesting but not important enough for active consideration right now.”

As media professionals, we do this when trying to time emerging trends and identify shifts in media usage. Overall, the changes may be gradual, but if you look closely at key audience segments, these shifts can suddenly appear quite large and significant.

For example, real shifts are happening with DVR penetration. According to popularly quoted Nielsen figures, DVRs are found today in about one-third of U.S. TV homes. Few marketers are buying television based upon household ratings today, and within the most popular buying target, adults 18-49, DVR penetration is actually 15 percent higher at just over 40 percent.

When you add an upper-income qualifier to this group, the number jumps to more than 50 percent of the target having DVRs. And if you’re looking for upper-income, new-car prospects, DVR penetration is approaching 60 percent, per Nielsen. Suddenly, DVR penetration has both the mass and the shift in usage that moves it from an emerging trend to a significant area that requires more immediate attention. If more than half of your target is time shifting, they’ve become the dominant programming partner by viewing shows when they’re convenient for them.

I recently spoke with a buyer for a major national car company who admitted that she almost always time shifts, and, like many who watch programs in playback, she rarely watches commercials. Fortunately, this viewing behavior is not universal at this point. The latest Nielsen NPower DVR numbers show that half the viewership for network dramas and sitcoms is delayed and more than half of commercials are skipped in playback.

From a national television perspective, prime-time television is the medium most impacted by time shifting. A deeper look at Nielsen NPower shows that commercial clutter and demographics are key factors when considering the impact of DVRs on commercial playback.

Our analysis of November ’09 viewership shows that pod length impacts commercial playback.
In playback, commercials that run in the first minute of a pod are much more likely to be viewed than commercials that run in the second and third minutes of the pod.

Americans are very comfortable with their DVRs and it’s showing. In November ’09, adults 18-49 “live” network prime-time viewership in DVR households dropped by more than 10 percent when compared to the two previous years. The falloff for adults 18-34 was slightly higher while “live” viewership of prime-time sitcoms fell by 20 percent from just two years ago. Of note, the 8 percent increase in commercial playback over the same period was still not enough to compensate for this decline.

For marketers looking to mitigate the impact of DVRs on their marketing investment, there are some factors that can help:

• Explore other national television alternatives. There are lower-cost options with comparable ratings to prime network and minimal DVR displacement.

• Look to “live.” When live viewership is high, people can’t electronically skip commercials. Non-prime-time programming with strong live viewership includes entertainment news, live sports, syndication sitcoms, talk and network news.

• First commercial minutes matter. Running your spots earlier in the pod will increase your commercial exposure in total homes and increase playback in DVR homes. A pod position analysis will demonstrate where the highest first-minute positions can be found.

• Young consumers need extra attention. Young adults are vital to the success of mobile telephone, movie and restaurant categories, and they’re the entry point for consumers that will be critical to your brand’s future health. Success with this group can be built by identifying national TV options that skew younger, have higher live viewership and shorter pods.

• Look beyond the :30/:15. Explore communications that run in program. Deeper and more relevant connections can be delivered through in-program integrations that extend to other media channels. Proprietary research by an SNTA member  shows that these integrations generate significantly higher levels of awareness, attentiveness and engagement than standard commercial units.

Shifts in usage caused by viewership trends and technology can lead to better, more relevant solutions and increase marketing success. These shifts are not always seismic for all but can be critical to delivering your individual marketing objectives.

Mitch Burg is the president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.