In a six-month study, ESPN gave viewers digital video recorders. At the end, the sports network came to this realization: Many people couldn’t care less about DVRs.
ESPN picked 100 households for its DVR experiment and periodically had trained researchers drop in to observe how using the device changed family viewing habits.
The murky verdict: Ultimately, 75% want to keep the DVR, but ESPN had trouble keeping the group intact. Over time, 90 of the 100 New York-area households dropped out and were replaced by others, and by the end, only 68 homes remained.
“The findings of this study certainly contradict the prevailing wisdom that DVRs will become the norm [in] U.S. households and that the 30-second spot will be rendered obsolete,” wrote ESPN’s Artie Bulgin, senior VP of research and sales development, and Rachel Mueller-Lust, ABC research VP. (Right now, about 7% of the nation has DVRs.)
The study found that, for most users, “commercial avoidance” is not the main attribute of having a DVR. Although 66% skipped commercials occasionally, that doesn’t appear much different from viewers who change channels or leave the room.
Mainly, the study concludes, viewers liked being able to watch TV more efficiently by watching what they wanted when they wanted to see it.
Bulgrin says the study, conducted for ESPN by Horowitz Associates, suggests that “the sky is not falling” on the current 30-second advertising model. “Generally speaking, commercial avoidance is a secondary outcome of watching television with a DVR,” the study says.
And viewers may not want the things. “There are millions and millions of Luddites in this country,” says Bulgrin. “The majority of homes in the country don’t intend to use either VOD or DVR technologies.”
Indeed, the test had so much churn because some people had trouble working the TiVo technology and many concluded they just didn’t care. (Personal issues were another factor.)
ESPN identified DVR viewer types but—except for the warrior—B&C came up with the names:
These viewers purposely record a program so they can miss the first 20 minutes or so and then catch up by fast-forwarding through the commercial breaks. ESPN found the skipper to be in the minority of DVR users.
Fans of: Possibly anything
Odds they skip commercials: High
They record the programs as initially aired to ensure they don’t miss them. Most of their DVR viewing is done the day the program aired, and they’re most likely to have been the first on the block to record programs with a VCR.
Fans of: Soaps, talk shows, reality programs
Odds they skip commercials: Low
Watching over the weekend, these viewers catch up with TV they missed during the week. The warriors want to be current, at their own pace.
Fans of: Prime time dramas
Odds they skip commercials: Even
These are the viewers most feared by advertisers. They gather large numbers of programs and then blast through them in blocks, often in fast-forward mode.
Fans of: Talk shows, cooking shows
Odds they skip commercials: High—and they skip dull parts of shows, too.
These viewers record favorite programs and movies and save them for a rainy day.
Fans of: Movies, children’s programming Odds they skip commercials: Low
Busy traveling executives use DVRs to catch up on their favorite programs once they’re back home.
Fans of: Anything
Odds they skip commercials: Depends on how backlogged they are.