How Much Time-Shifting Do We Really Do?

The good old VHS recorder started something that Tivo took to a higher level, and the result has shaken the video broadcast industry to its very foundations.

Or has it?

Conventional wisdom says that U.S. television viewing households hate commercials. It says that they use digital video recorders (DVRs) so that they can skip over the advertisements. It says that this time-shifting of viewing has a negative impact on the value of the commercial messages that are sprinkled throughout the traditional linear programming. And it could be wrong.

The industry analysis company Centris has released a new white paper on DVRs. Their research paints an interesting picture of DVR usage in this country that runs counter to some of our expectations.

First, fewer than two out of five television-viewing households in the U.S. have one or more DVR. It is also interesting to note that few own their own device; about three-quarters are rented from their television service provider. (Fiber optic subscribers are more likely to rent a DVR than cable or satellite subscribers.)

But the result that surprised me was this: half of all DVR users watch 20% or less of their programming on the DVR. In fact, one out of six DVR users don’t watch programming on the DVR at all! That says to me that the threat to Big Advertising on linear television programming is not nearly as serious as some of us might think.

I guess that the other lesson I learned from this report is to not extrapolate too much from your own experience. I’d estimate that more than 90% of the video programming that we watch in our house (and we watch plenty!) is either recorded or streamed. And we do skip commercials (except last Monday night during the SuperBowl, and on Hulu where we don’t have a choice). The only broadcast linear programming that we watch is the occasional news show and live sports. And even then, we often will use our DVR’s “Pause” function and then skip the commercials as we compress the viewing time.