October 14, 2008

Delayed Viewing Gives Networks a Bump

By Gary Levin

Networks worried about declining ratings can take some comfort in the growing DVR crowd.

In the first set of delayed-viewing numbers from the new season, out Monday, the four major broadcast networks collectively added an average of nearly 3 million viewers who watched shows from one to seven days after their original airing.

In all, 16 prime-time series on the four major networks gained 1 million or more viewers. But the gains are particularly startling for some shows: In the official premiere week of the new TV season, they reflect a 7% boost for ABC's Desperate Housewives and a 20% jump for Fox's Fringe. Among other top gainers, Heroes and House rose about 18%, and The Office was up 16% compared with same-day viewing levels. CW's 90210 also saw a big 19.5% gain, but the show's comparatively small audience meant it added fewer than 600,000 viewers.

Digital video recorders such as TiVo are gaining popularity. About 28% of TV homes now have them, up from 20% last fall. But newer users seem less fanatic about them.

Viewers "are not recording as much as they did in the past," says ABC prime-time research chief Larry Hyams, "but because the penetration has gone up this year, the impact nationally is greater."

ABC's Grey's Anatomy averaged 16.9 million "live" viewers, adding 1.7 million who saw it later that Thursday and 2.6 million who waited up to seven days to watch the season premiere, the biggest seven-day lift for any series. That 14% gain is up from 10% for last season's first episode.

The impact is sharpest among adults in their 30s, the most-frequent DVR users, and for serialized dramas. Sports, news, reality shows and sitcoms get the smallest bumps. There's virtually no delayed viewing for college or NFL football.

While seven-day DVR numbers provide bragging rights, networks sell ads based on lower ratings for commercials up to three days after shows originally air, in a compromise brokered last year.

Still, "what's most important for the networks is that any kind of viewing builds loyalty," says John Rash of ad firm Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis. "Apathy should be the biggest concern." (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>