New MPG Report: Scant Ads Seen in Post-Live Mode

In the rush to quantify the impact of commercial avoidance in time-shifted viewing, the industry may be losing sight of how viewers are engaging with live and post-live television.

A new report from Havas’ media agency MPG suggests that the vast majority of commercial time is viewed during live broadcasts, poking a hole in the argument that DVR playback may offer advertisers delayed gratification. Given that time-shifting devices are now in 36 percent of the nation’s 114.9 million TV households, the value of post-live viewership may be fading.

Standard analysis of Nielsen C3 program ratings posits that nearly half (46 percent) of all commercial time is viewed in time-shifted mode. That’s all well and good, said Don Seaman, vp/director of communications analysis at MPG, but in assessing the number of eyeballs viewing the programming rather than narrowing in exclusively on the actual commercial ratings, number crunchers are comparing apples to hand grenades.

Upon isolating those data points through the first 11 weeks of the 2009-10 broadcast season, Seaman discovered that 91 percent of adult 18-49 commercial ratings are delivered live. DVR playback accounted for merely 9 percent of all commercial viewing. “What this tells us is that the vast majority of commercial viewing is live,” Seaman said. “And the pattern holds true across different genres, networks and days of the week…which suggests that it’s a hard-wired behavior.”

For example, adults 18-34 view 10 percent of their prime-time commercial messaging in playback, consistent with the 25-54 results (8 percent), as well as the previously mentioned 18-49 numbers. The Big Four networks demonstrate a similar congruity, as NBC gets 8 percent of its 18-49 commercial ratings from DVR viewing, on par with Fox (9 percent), ABC (10 percent) and CBS (11 percent).

Some shows buck the trend. While the networks draw 10 percent of their commercial ratings post-live, no fewer than 10 programs deliver 20 percent or more of their 18-49 ad views in time-shifted mode. Fox’s Dollhouse, which airs its final episode Jan. 22, draws a fourth of its 18-49 commercial ratings via DVRs, per MPG, while NBC’s The Office (24 percent) and Heroes (23 percent) also boast a disproportionate ratio. “Some shows’ commercials just aren’t as aggressively avoided as others,” Seaman said.

The upshot of Seaman’s research is it may allow networks to squeeze out maximum mileage from the emergency spare tire that is C3. “We have a responsibility to our clients to make sure they’re getting the entire picture, and the way the industry is positioning C3 doesn’t accurately portray what’s happening with time-shifting. Program rating averages are irrelevant.”

“The ads pay our freight, and that’s never going to change. But I’m 180 degrees away from believing our program deliveries don’t matter,” countered one ad sales exec. “It’s all grist for the mill.”