People Watch Commercials!

Networks have been saying that they deserved credit for “time-shifted” viewing because people who use DVRs don’t always fast-forward through the commercials. Turns out they were correct.

According to new ratings numbers from Nielsen that take into account consumers who watch recorded programs up to three days after they were aired, about half of DVR owners don’t skip commercials.

From the AP:

“The numbers are exactly what we thought,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research at NBC Universal. He said the data for some shows, such as “The Office,” — which he said had higher C3 ratings than traditional ratings — “confirm our concern that we need to get credit for time-shifted viewing.” Other NBC shows, like “Law and Order: SVU,” had lower C3 ratings.

The new system is a compromise between advertisers and broadcasters after years of squabbling over the best way to measure how many people watch commercials.

Last year, Nielsen began measuring DVR viewership over the seven days following the original prime-time telecast. The networks argued that those numbers — which added as many as 2 million viewers for some shows — should be used as the basis for ad rates. But the advertisers countered that many DVR users fast-forward through the ads, so they would be paying for nothing.

It turned out that nearly half of DVR users actually watch commercials, according to data Nielsen released in May. The two sides settled on the three-day period because Nielsen says 95 percent of all DVR viewing for prime-time shows is done within that period.

Brill said the new ratings are only a “baby step” in the direction of measuring actual commercial viewership. That’s because C3 rates the average viewers during all commercial minutes of a program, not for specific commercials. She wants Nielsen to deliver by-the-second ratings.

“Then,” she said, “we’ll know exactly what we’re paying for.”

The Wall Street Journal had some more detailed numbers to throw around, claiming that some consumers didn’t even need a DVR to skip commercials:

“Even without a DVR, 12% of CBS'”60 Minutes” and Fox’s “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” missed the commercials.”

Between DVR watching and live broadcast, CBS’s Survivor: China brought in 6.51 million viewers, and 5.23 million of them watched the commercials.

Only 5.16 million people watched it live. Where did the rest come from? DVRs. Conclusion: People watch commercials. Why? No clue.

Answer to Vexing Question: Who’s Not Watching Ads [WSJ]
Few Surprises As Nielsen Rates Ads [AP]
(Photo:Jerry7171)

Comments

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  1. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    Yeah I am sure there are a lot of people who feel the need to watch recorded commercials…. I don’t think my wife and I watch anything live anymore. It is all on the DVR, the only time I watch a commercial is when I forget we are watching a recorded show or its a funny commercial. Other than that it’s FF all the way.

  2. That70sHeidi says:

    Does Nielsen count the times someone gets up and takes a potty break while the DVR is still running [a commercial] as “viewing” the commercial? What about getting a drink? Putting another load in the dryer? If I do this during live TV, I’d do this during DVR TV. Heck, I’ve done it during a DVD of a tv show! I completely forgot I could pause the thing and just took it as a loss because, hey, gotta go gotta go right now.

  3. Alexander says:

    I just recently got a DVR for the first time with DISHD and my wife and I still watch commercials…until we remember it’s on DVR. Pure force of habit. We are becoming more accustomed to it but we still watch the recorded shows and just forget it’s on DVR.

  4. mcjake says:

    Agreed. I don’t have DVR, but my parents do. And at almost any given time watching tv at home it is a DVRed show and we almost never remember to fast forward through the commercials.

  5. Lynn12 says:

    Any numbers generated by The Nielsen Group is meanless IMO. Their rating system is outdated and doesn’t reflect the real number of people watching.

    They should offer cable and sat. subscibers the option of monitoring their viewing habits because I’m betting the numbers will be very different than what Nielsen puts out from their exclusive, invite only, group of viewers who are counted.

  6. axiomatic says:

    Advertisers had to keep that stance or their years of “but but but DVR’s!!!” bleating would look like F.U.D.

    The only time I watch commercials is if I forget to FF.

    As a side note. I ONLY want to be advertised too while I’m shopping in a store or shopping online. Otherwise, why do I need to consider some ad executives “opus” while I’m playing a game, driving a car, or any other myriad of activities that deserve my concentration and not a advertised distraction.

  7. Takkun says:

    If you don’t watch the commercials you’re stealing television!

    On a slightly more serious note, if you fast forward through the commercials, you lose all your valuable bathroom and refrigerator time.

  8. Caswell says:

    Watch commercials? Why?

    My wife and I watched Friday Night Lights last week in a hotel room (turning in early, there for a tennis tournament). First time we’ve watched a show sans DVR in over a year. Freaking horrible. Literally five minutes of show, five minutes of commercial, five minutes of show, five minutes of commercial…

    I value our time, and that DVR is the best $5 / mo I’ve spent in a long time.

  9. lo_fro says:

    @mcjake:
    @Nemesis_Enforcer:
    I forget to fast forward through commercials all the time when I’m watching DVR’d stuff. I generally remember halfway through the commercial break.

  10. RhymePhile says:

    I generally fast-forward through commericals on DVR stuff, unless I need to do something else while I watch, like head into the kitchen or bathroom or something.

    As for live TV, I’m stuck watching commercials because if I change the channel my DVR will lose the “live” recorded feed and I won’t be able to rewind if I need to. Of course, I can always pause and then FF to catch up, but when shows are on different channels that makes it difficult.

  11. hoosier45678 says:

    If I catch myself watching a live broadcast, I’ll pause it and grab a book or newspaper to read for at least 8 minutes. (16 minutes for an hour-long show).

    Sometimes it backfires, though. My wife might cruise by, see the DVR’s screensaver, and use that as proof that I’ve relinquished control and will put on Dawson’s Creek reruns. (my DVR dumps the pause buffer if you change channels)

  12. travelina says:

    This All-Bran commercial featuring the formerly constipated construction guy has gotten over 100,000 hits on YouTube:
    [www.slate.com]

  13. louisb3 says:

    @Takkun: All joking aside, that’s the kind of reasoning we’d hear if the RIAA goons were working for TV companies.

  14. jodles says:

    as a poor college kid, i watch most of my shows online a few days later (i usually miss the shows when they are on tv anyway). this way i can pause and pee or drink or whatever on my terms, not the networks’. getting digital cable plus dvr while in college is not so economically sound.

  15. SOhp101 says:

    Thanks everyone for watching commercials, so I don’t have to.

  16. lyndyn29 says:

    We probably watch 20-30% of the commercials that air during a show we’re watching “semi-live”. (=half the time we fast-forward through the commericals, the other half the time we punch pause at the beginning of the commercial and take more time than the break would normally run, for smoke break/bathroom break/make a cup of coffee/etc. Then come back and FF until the show picks up again.) Watching commercials is partly forgetting about the DVR, and partly seeing commercials we actually want to watch. I’ve noticed, particularly during primetime, more relevant, interesting commercials in the past year. (Not ENOUGH good commercials, mind. But more.) Lots of movie trailers; and yeah, if I’m being entertained on television, I’m probably amenable to being adverted at about movie entertainment. Deoderant and beer, not so much.

    Is it too much to hope that the ad market, adjusting to the idea that consumers now have the option to opt out, are raising the quality bar on commercials to keep us watching?

  17. powerjhb says:

    I wonder what percent of the commercials watched are near the end of a show versus the beginning. If you just delay watching by 10-15 minutes for an hour long show, you may catch up by the end of the show and be forced to watch the last set of commercials.

  18. Takkun says:

    @louisb3:

    “This album brought to you with limited commercial interruption by Sierra Mist and Verizon.”

  19. TechnoDestructo says:

    Hell, I don’t have a DVR, and I don’t watch a lot of commercials. I change the channel during commercials. Particularly if the commercials are bad/stupid/obnoxious ones. (Like that goddamn “cereal straws” commercial…first AH MY EARS! second FUCKING REVOLTING.) And then I often forget to change it back.

    I think anything they gain for DVRs they should lose for people like me.

  20. forever_knight says:

    @travelina: jeeze. it’s clear the author of that article needs to drop a load. complaining about a commercial. she needs more material to write about.

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    Every time I leave the room to relieve myself or grab a snack when a commercial is playing, I scourge myself with a cat-o-nine tail. Not because it’s theft, but the Charmin ads get me randy.

    I WILL watch a commercial if it’s entertaining. Or movie ads. Basically, show me value, Madison Avenue, and I’ll be your compliant b*tch.

    Fortunately, few commercials make the grade, so I’m a commercial-skipping fool most of the time. Have to shake my head at the non-skippers, though. I don’t understand that at all.

  22. Youthier says:

    I fastforward through commercials but if something looks interesting, I will rewind and watch it. Admittedly, it’s more likely I do this for TV or Movie promos but I’ve done it for new products.

    I don’t watch Coke or Pepsi commercials. They sold me on pop years ago. When I want it, I’ll buy it. Same with McDonald’s, BK, etc. I know that it’s there even without the commercials.

  23. P41 says:

    Here’s another little hint for the next study…If someone’s not thinking about buying hemorrhoid cream, it’s not really a loss that they fast forward through your hemorrhoid cream commercial.

  24. MercuryPDX says:

    The only time I “watch” commercials on a Tivo’d program is when I need to get up and grab a smoke or something from the fridge. If I get back before the break is over I FF through the rest.

    With live programs, I’ll pause and go do something for 10 or 15 minutes to get a good buffer going. Having a Tivo has made watching commercial TV (at a friends house, for example) unbearable.

  25. wHATEver says:

    @lynn12: “Any numbers generated by The Nielsen Group is meanless IMO. Their rating system is outdated and doesn’t reflect the real number of people watching. They should offer cable and sat. subscibers the option of monitoring their viewing habits because I’m betting the numbers will be very different than what Nielsen puts out from their exclusive, invite only, group of viewers who are counted.”

    Although this isn’t explictly stated in the story, I believe the Nielsen ratings cited are a hybrid of data collected from special Opt-In accounts with TiVo, and their next-generation PeopleMeters. The TiVo data is hyper-accurate to the second and to the button-press, allowing them to actually tell exactly which ads were watched, which ads were skipped, and which ads were re-watched (hello, cleavage…).

    As to the new PeopleMeters, the ones I’ve read about use special reflective tags on the people at home (with a scanner on the device) that actually determines who is in the room at a given moment, and can (potentially) tell if they are facing the TV. So it can track during live broadcasts how many people in the Nielsen household are actively watching at any given moment (and which of them – for demographic tracking), and when they come and go during the show’s duration.

    The most contentious issue (touched on in the article) is the minute-by-minute or ad-by-ad ratings: the advertisers want their own ratings (Kraft Foods at 15 minutes past the hour); the broadcasters want to keep global ratings (CSI: Your City Here for the full 60 minutes). Advertisers want to know the precise bang-for-the-buck they are getting on ther ads, and up to this point the argument has been that the technology didn’t exist to give them that data. That’s no longer the case, so it’s really just a matter of time before that final wall comes down.

  26. markedward says:

    Occasionally I’ll be visiting a certain friend, and if we’re watching a TV show live, whenever commercials come up, he’ll literally pause it at the start of the commercials, wait about three minutes, then fast-forward to when the show starts up. Otherwise, if it’s pre-recorded, he just skips them altogether.

  27. bearymore says:

    “use special reflective tags on the people at home (with a scanner on the device) that actually determines who is in the room at a given moment, and can (potentially) tell if they are facing the TV.”

    Good lord! The Nielsen sample must be truly representative, then. Everyone I know would be willing to wear a badge so that Big Brother could track them. Riiiight. So their ratings generalize to the population of people who are willing to have their movements tracked in their own homes and who remember to wear their badges at all times??

  28. maddypilar says:

    So if you forget to fast forward and you watch the commercial is that any less watching it than if you hadn’t DVR’d it and you sat through the commercial? No. It isn’t. Just because you intended to fast forward does not mean that you were not exposed to the commercial. Point goes to the network. You were delivered the commercial that they sold to the advertiser.

  29. @louisb3: I do believe that’s actually a quote from someone in the business that was in a Consumerist article.

    Unfortunately, I’m having trouble finding the post with the quote in it.

  30. iamme99 says:

    These stats go against what Jupiter reported a few months back. The fact that Nielsen is involved, who has a vested interest in good numbers, makes me kind of suspicious.

    See:
    JupiterResearch Estimates DVR Commercial Skipping Could Threaten $8 Billion in TV Advertising
    [www.jupiterresearch.com]

    But yes, there are certainly people who watch ads. Usually, these are people who are regular couch potatoes, just sitting mesmerized by one TV show after another. I was once watching TV with some relatives and had control of the remote. During the 1st commercial I hit the mute button like I normally do at home, thinking we could converse about something. They were not happy about me doing this. They really did not have anything to talk about and did not know what to do with a TV on that didn’t have any sound. They were lost and it was so funny.

    For me, when an ad comes on the radio, I switch to another channel. I mostly watch TV with one eye while I am using the computer. Usually I record TV on a VCR which marks and auto fast forwards through the ads (Panasonic model). If I’m watching live, I hit the mute button until the show comes back on. Sometimes I’ll use P-in-P to watch another channel (particularly with live sports). When dumped on by advertising in a public space, I tune it out.

    I ask, how many consumers have REALLY been influenced to buy a car by the pretty (and expensive) ads they see on TV, you know the endless empty road, the silent car, the perfect music? Yeah right. Me, I’m still waiting for the pretty babes to cluster around when I open a beer like I’ve seen on friends TV’s who don’t block ads.

    IMO, advertising is a fool’s game. Advertisers have buyers convinced with bogus statistics that advertising is valuable. Buyers want to believe that they are spending their money wisely and are afraid to find out they might be wrong. Which is why Nielsen has fought so hard for so many years to avoid implementing technology that would show who is really watching ads. If producers/advertisers found out the real story, the advertising industry would implode.

    Speaking of advertising, São Paulo in Brazil has implemented a “clean city” law that requires the removal of all advertising – no billboards, neon signs, flyers, etc. Gee, I wonder why this story has never got any play in the USA media [lol]

    [www.environmentalgraffiti.com]

  31. B says:

    But if you don’t watch commercials, how do you know which products to buy? Had it not been for Dominoes, I would never have known I need to smear oreo-pizza all over my face.

  32. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Commercials is exactly the reason I spent the money to buy Boston Legal on DVD. Instead of spending that money on advertising, why don’t they spend that money on actually making an excellent product? Oh wait, then it wouldn’t be screwing the customers out of their money. The best part is, they roll the cost of advertising into the cost of the product, so we get to PAY to be inconvenienced and annoyed!

  33. JustAGuy2 says:

    @P41:

    This is totally untrue. Someone might not be currently thinking about buying ‘roid cream, but if, in the future, they do start to think about it, you want them to remember your brand.

  34. JustAGuy2 says:

    @iamme99:

    1. The fact that you don’t believe ads work on you doesn’t mean they don’t work. There’s a good bit of empirical evidence that they do.

    2. The fact that you remember car commercials being about endless empty road, silent car, perfect music means that you retain at least something about them.

  35. lestat730 says:

    DVR’s are about two things… watching things you would have otherwise missed and skipping ALL the commercials. Half of people still watch them? I just don’t understand…..

  36. I read, embroider, clip coupons, file, grade papers, cook, and engage in marital bickering while watching TV. I haven’t watched commercials in years and years and years, long before I got TiVo.

  37. pestie says:

    Long before DVR’s, I used to mute the audio on the TV during commercials. Sure, I had to glance at it every once in a while to see whether the show was back on, but after growing up this way (my parents started doing this when we got our first remote-controlled TV) it was second nature. I jumped on the Tivo bandwagon pretty early on because I’d already developed a deep hatred of commercials.

  38. Shadowfire says:

    If companies made commercials entertaining themselves, I’d watch them. Most of them are boring and/or stupid, so I skip them.

  39. brianary says:

    My MythTV automatically skips commercials. Yay!

    My Firefox web browser with AdBlock+ automatically removes ads. Yay!

    Of course, I still can’t dodge the commercials in the movies I pay for. Nor can I completely ignore the enormous decals on the floor of my supermarket or the signs sticking out of the shelves. Nor can I miss the massive billboards covering every square inch of sky.

    I hate that I have to raise my son in a society that has all the thoughtful subtlety of a whore screaming about waterbed sales in front of a pickup truck full of corn syrup and blaring rock music.

    Advertisers are doing a pretty good job to conditioning people to feel like they are stealing if they don’t watch the commercials or view web page ads, though. I can’t wait for raids on houses during commercial breaks to make sure no one is in the bathroom.

    This is all thanks to the RIAA/MPAA and others continuing to reinforce the notion of a cowed, obedient public, to prop up an industry that depends on artificial scarcity. They’ve made it OK to call everyone theives, and assert that they should have the final say about what you do with your own stuff.

  40. iamme99 says:

    @JUSTAGUY2 AT 05:23 PM

    @iamme99:
    1. The fact that you don’t believe ads work on you doesn’t mean they don’t work. There’s a good bit of empirical evidence that they do.

    I contend that the numbers of advertising value are often generated by stakeholders or consultants hired by such. Therefore, they are all mainly suspect. I’m sure commercials work for some people. Maybe the lower half of the IQ range?

    2. The fact that you remember car commercials being about endless empty road, silent car, perfect music means that you retain at least something about them.

    Yes and since I have never encountered such an experience, I can only conclude that such ads are inaccurate and advertisers are liars. Is that what I am supposed to retain?

  41. selianth says:

    @bearymore: “Good lord! The Nielsen sample must be truly representative, then. Everyone I know would be willing to wear a badge so that Big Brother could track them. Riiiight. So their ratings generalize to the population of people who are willing to have their movements tracked in their own homes and who remember to wear their badges at all times??”

    I actually know someone who has a Neilsen People Meter in their house, and they don’t wear tags, simply “log in” whenever they sit down to watch TV. My impression is that Nielsen is still developing the new “badge” technology and I think working on some other ways as well of tracking who’s in the room actually watching TV. I don’t think it’s in very many homes yet.

  42. alilz says:

    Before I got a dvr I did a lot of channel surfing during the commericals or watch a couple of shows at once. But with the dvr if I’m recording one show I can’t channel surf as much because the dvr will freak out and shut it’s self off. But watching stuff live I get itchy to fast forward through commericals.

    When I’m watching recorded stuff the only time I don’t fastforward through the commericals is when I’m doing something else while watching tv. But I do pause at the start of the commercials and then hit the “live” button when I think the break is over.

  43. TheBigLewinski says:

    We bought a Tivo when my kids were small, now that they are older (9&6) they don’t like commercials and use the FF as much as my wife and I. Glad I got they “programmed” early.

  44. elf6c says:

    I have done the cableco DVR thing for 2 years. I still watch a few commercials- ones for movies I am interested in (or maybe interested in), or for goods, services or stores I may use in the future. Or if they are funny- I would never drink Bud Light, but the commercials are consistently good.

    Love the picture of the cat killing the DVR (blocking the heat vents). Officially, my cat NEVER does this. But there is a reason I rent my DVR from the cable company- and don’t buy one.

  45. I hate to say this but I never trusted Nielsen’s ratings. Then again, some commercials are just worth watching..

  46. JustAGuy2 says:

    @iamme99:

    You may be special. I doubt it. More likely, you’re just denying that the ads make an impact. Most good ads have a lasting impact that’s below the consciousness level.