NBC News Embraces TV Time Shifting

November 17, 2010

By Susan Burke

A surprising new ad featuring NBC Nightly News anchor, Brian Williams, encourages viewers who don't have time to watch the news when it airs live (6:30 p.m.) to record it and watch it later instead (a phenomenon known as "time shifting"). In a November 14, 2010, New York Times article, Mr. Williams commented, "I just thought it was high time to acknowledge, in our Nightly News promos, the way we live."

All of this raises new questions for the industry. Does acknowledging the very real fact that viewers time shift demonstrate that the networks are in touch with the way people consume media today? And, does time shifting make viewers more likely to watch a TV program, even if they miss the original air date?

According to a September 27, 2010, New York Times article, DVRs are helping many shows attain larger audiences (and Nielsen ratings). Fox's Glee scored a 5.6 Nielsen rating for an episode that aired in September, but after factoring in the time shifting audience, the rating grew to 6.3. The September 27, 2010, New York Times article went on to state that "many other established shows, like CBS's Two and a Half Men, and NBC's Law & Order SVU, added about 15 to 20 percent to their totals" after accounting for their DVR audiences.

Of course, these findings don't address a key issue for advertisers — are users fast-forwarding through the commercials when they do time shift? Most likely, yes. However, advertisers would be surprised by what sticks in viewers' heads as they are fast forwarding. Even while fast forwarding, I still caught a glimpse of and remember the fun Dove and Hellmann's commercials that played during the most recent season of AMC's Mad Men.
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