46% Watch DVR With Commercials

I love to use my DVR to fast-forward through commercials. In a one-hour show, I can knock out generally just under 20 minutes of advertisements. That means DVR makes TV watching around 30% more efficient. I can then use the saved time to do something useful or entertaining. According to a New York Times article today, not everyone has the same attitude as I do when it comes to skipping commercials. In fact, nearly half of DVR users let the advertisements play. While I found this shocking at first, I shouldn't have.

The Times says:

Against almost every expectation, nearly half of all people watching delayed shows are still slouching on their couches watching messages about movies, cars and beer. According to Nielsen, 46 percent of viewers 18 to 49 years old for all four networks taken together are watching the commercials during playback, up slightly from last year. Why would people pass on the opportunity to skip through to the next chunk of program content?

The most basic reason, according to Brad Adgate, the senior vice president for research at Horizon Media, a media buying firm, is that the behavior that has underpinned television since its invention still persists to a larger degree than expected.

"It's still a passive activity," he said.

In other words, that 46% of people don't want to be bothered to hit the fast-forward button on the remote, because they're too busy vegging out in front of the TV. When you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. As Adgate (which, by the way, is an amazing name for a media buying firm executive) reminds us, TV isn't an active sport. Many people consider relaxation a key part of television. So quickly hitting the fast-forward button when commercials begin to minimize the time spent watching isn't in the equation. Even though I don't relate, I can understand that.

Yet, these days, some more active shows are wildly popular. For example, reality shows like American Idol involve viewer participation by voting for contestants. Yet, active reality shows like this are the least likely to be watched on DVR, because they're treated much like sporting events -- watching live matters to people. So the shows that people watch most passively are also the most likely to viewed later on DVR.

There's little doubt that TV executives are thrilled with this news from Nielsen. In a sense, many people's laziness outweighs their hatred for ads. At first glance, this doesn't appear to be particularly good news for internet advertising: most banner ads urge users to click on them -- which requires an active behavior.

Yet, it may depend on the kind of Internet user -- passive or active. Internet use is more active than TV, so banner ads might work for some people after all. But other users are more passive. For them, online video ads might work better. With most such advertisements, you can click on an "x" somewhere to turn them off. But maybe if so many people are passive about TV ads, the same behavior will apply to ads that interrupt internet surfing. Through this logic, a mix of internet ad type might be the best approach.