The DVR Is Finally Killing TV

The DVR has been around for years now, but it's time to officially call it a TV killer as both The New York Times' old school and new school media reporters have discovered its magic.

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The DVR has been around for years now, but it's time to officially call it a TV killer as both The New York Timesold school and new school media reporters have discovered its magic.

In today's paper David Carr, the more skeptical of The Times' media desk Odd Couple, has outed himself as a heavy DVR user, forgoing live TV for recorded, commercial-free bliss. "This week, when they ring the bell on the television upfronts, the annual orgy of advertising buying, I hope the industry isn’t counting on my house to lift ratings," he begins his Media Equation column, describing his preference for the recorded show over scheduled broadcasts. Some of us have loved our DVRs for years -- that other Times media reporter, Brian Stelter, as a younger self-proclaimed new-media obsessed person, probably falls under that category. But now the trend has spread to a whole different demographic. Oh yeah, and the stats are there to prove it, too.

Carr points out all the obvious reasons DVR is overtaking programmed television watching, some of which Stelter first explored in his April 19 article about Sunday night DVR:

  • Convenience. "I’m part of the cult of 'Community,' but I motor through several episodes on Hulu Plus when I am feeling the need to spend some quality time with Abed," explains Carr, who sets his DVR to watch shows like The Colbert Report and Modern Family on his own time.
  • Lack of commercials. "It feels like a sucker’s game just to settle for sponsor-infested spoon-feeding," writes Carr. It's true, the DVR skips all that boring stuff.
  • More time to watch good TV. Both Stelter and Carr allude to the ability to fit in more good TV. With too much quality Sunday TV, Stelter finds the DVR can't handle it all. Carr, on the other hand, records a lot of his favorite gems.

This last part hints at the irony of this whole thing: It's also what makes this a sign of TV's death, rather than the birth of a symbotic relationship between broadcasters and DVRs. TV has gotten so good that we need to DVR shows to fit it all in. But DVR, with the ability to fast forward commercials, might kill these very shows. "Then again, if the business model producing some of that yummy programming dries up, the shows might go away as well," notes Carr.

As Carr concedes, he is not "the bleeding edge" of this trend. Stelter is more of a bleeding edge guy, someone you expect to be up on the latest trends. (Just read his Atlantic Wire Media Diet to get an idea of how pluggd in this guy is.) Carr even called him his robot replacement. But, now that the trend has reached Carr's demographic (think: your parents), it sounds more threatening. "Now, DVR penetration will approach 50 percent of American homes next year, while half of American homes already have video on demand," he writes. If almost half of American homes are doing this, it's time to call it a trend.

But, it's not just DVR that should worry the TV industry. The DVR mentality: "we watch what we want, when we want to watch, and by the way, we aren’t going to watch much in the way of commercials," as Carr describes it -- has led to the rise of Internet TV viewing. Online viewing is up 46 percent and Nielsen estimates there will be 350 million Web-enabled TV box things sold worldwide by 2015. Meanwhile, live TV has declined 14 consecutive quarters, as The New York Times' Bill Carter reports. DVR trend plus Internet TV trend minus live TV viewing equals a bleak outlook for live television. And to make this symbolic, American Idol's ratings are down 30 percent. (The show's still the most watched on TV.) Though, as we've seen with Mad Men, not all shows need big live viewing audiences to make it. Maybe this isn't the end of TV, but the end of the traditional TV business model.

Image via Shutterstock by Subbotina Anna

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.