TV ratings counting DVR users

October 11, 2007|By Rick Kushman | Rick Kushman,McClatchy-Tribune

We're into the third week of the new fall TV season, and here's what is clear about the ratings: nothing.

What is clear is what's causing all this unclearness. That'd be digital video recorders - aka DVRs - which allow viewers to record easily, not to mention pause and replay live TV.

Americans are adapting to DVRs faster than any TV technology ever. Last fall, when the season started, 8.5 percent of homes had DVRs. Now, that's 19.5 percent and skyrocketing, and the one thing everyone in the industry is sure about is that way more people are recording shows and watching them later. Sometimes days and days later.

That means the ratings from Nielsen are, more than ever, just a partial picture, which matters a lot to advertisers, and it's those advertisers who pay for most of what people watch.

Here's what's changed. Nielsen is still issuing its regular reports - an estimate comes overnight, and a more thorough number comes out a week later. But now, it's also reporting a viewing total called live-plus-seven, which includes people who watched on DVRs within seven days of the original airing. (The live-plus-seven doesn't count VCR viewing.)

But that's not all. There is also a new rating - C3 - that counts viewership of commercials watched within three days of the first airing.

The live-plus-seven takes two weeks to come out, and the C3 rating takes three weeks.

Still, viewership is generally down this season for the networks, just as it has been in the past few years. And the live-plus-seven can add 10 percent or more to the total ratings for some series - in particular, ones that attract younger or techno-savvy viewers, and shows that are serialized.

Plus, advertisers will care most about the C3 ratings, because they want to know who, if anyone, is actually watching their ads. One answer, according to research that CBS has shared with TV critics, seems to be that about 40 percent of people who record shows still watch the commercials. No one knows why.

So, this is where we are: Better, more final ratings on this season's shows will be out this week. Ratings on commercials will be issued Monday.

Even with the additional information, the list of top-rated shows, so far, looks a lot like last season: CSI, Grey's Anatomy, Dancing With the Stars, House, Desperate Housewives and CSI: Miami lead the pack. Factoring in shows that drew younger viewers, Heroes, The Office and Brothers & Sisters join the winner's circle.

As for new shows, there were no instant hits, and everything is going to take some time to settle into a pattern, but NBC's Bionic Woman and ABC's Private Practice and Pushing Daisies look solid.

The vast middle ground of maybe-they'll-work-out includes CBS' Cane and The Big Bang Theory, NBC's Chuck and Life, ABC's Dirty Sexy Money and Fox's Back to You.

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