Reality Update: People Still Watch Live TV

Not just live TV, but people still tune in to catch their regularly scheduled programming. I’m not sure how Naaman does it in NYC, but I like watching Top Chef when it airs. I’ve been looking at social interactive TV for some time—thinking and building new interfaces for live TV watching and social sharing. Just about anyone I talk to about this work, at least in San Francisco, says “Oh I never watch TV”. If they do watch TV they say “this is useless, everyone uses a DVR now”. I do <3 my TiVo, but really I’d rather tune in on time to watch my stories.

Hulu and DVR addicts should know about this recent Nielsen study. The study found on average 1.15% of all TV watched is time shifted via a DVR. Tiny tiny tiny. What’s even more crazy is that 1.15% is up 21.1% from last year. This means for any month, 7 hours of your TV is time shifted.

You can read the full report; but I’d rather you tell me: Do you time shift your TV? If so how much?

18 thoughts on “Reality Update: People Still Watch Live TV

  1. Dean Eckles

    I think there’s something wrong with the percentages in this.

    As long as the little bubble in which I watch it is appropriately ignorant, then whether Top Chef is airing right now or two nights ago doesn’t matter for me…

    My household is all about time shifting everything — even if only by 30 min.

  2. Dean Eckles

    Digging in more to the study, I guess it depends on what counts as time shifting: what if I only wait 20 minutes so I don’t have to watch commercials?

  3. ayman Post author

    Dean, grad student who works at Nokia Research, it is fair to say you are in the 1%. TV being social, it is also fair to say your friends exhibits the same behavior. I ran the numbers a few ways (not knowing the inclusive details in their numbers) all came out round 1% (closer to 3% for those of us about 30).

    And, really? Do you wait 20 minutes just so you can FFWD the commercials?

    PS: I’m hoping Kevin takes it!

  4. Dean Eckles

    Well here’s what happened… I misread your post as “What’s even more crazy is that 1.15% is up from 21.1% last year”, so I thought there was actually just a superficial mistake in the numbers. Hence, first post. I’m not normally (or even this time, you see) one of those people that is sure that I am the counterexample that refutes a probabilistic claims!

    But, yes, we actually do that. And if you don’t FFWD in this household, beware! A firm hand — or at least a exclamation — is coming your way at FFWD speeds. Sometimes we pause stuff when it goes to commercial if it’s in real time, then take a break until we’ve got a lead on it. (Is that time shifting?)

    As an extreme example, my roommate even invited folks over the other night to watch Oregon vs. Oregon State — but delayed by like 70 minutes!

  5. ayman Post author

    Last year’s report said approx 5.7 hours per month was timeshifted. I do wish they at least gave us that clarity on the ‘what is timeshifted’ question. I let the commercials play through. They provide natural breaks in the programming that I enjoy (its odd to watch 7 seconds of post commercial recap in a program if there was no break). And, honestly, I do enjoy some commercials which also makes me the second most interesting man in the world.

  6. Dean Eckles

    That figure gets at the unhelpfulness of the 1.15% figure. What would be nice to know is P(time shifted | watched by DVR owner)… So we know that 7 hours per month (though I’m skeptical of how they calculated this), but we don’t know how many hours per month that is out of — or what programs were time shifted.

    The whole “average American” concept is really not that useful.

    (Maybe this is in the for-pay report?)

  7. Streeter

    I believe that time-shifting is really described as making television watching more convenient. I’ll watch shows delayed so that I can come home from work later, multi-task better or just take breaks when I want to, not when the show dictates.

    Also, I definitely believe that I consume more TV because I have the ability to time-shift shows. Rather than being forced into certain viewing schedules, I can sit down and watch shows knowing they are on the Tivo. Without the ability to time-shift, I don’t know how many of those same shows I would watch. I might view some of them online, but there are others that I’m not invested in enough to seek them out.

  8. ayman Post author

    @dean i’d be happy with a sample size. my guess is they have some decent stats ppl there and arent just asking 10 grad students in a lab. The linked PDF has some details on timeshifting: TV in the home includes those viewing at least one minute (reach) within the measurement period. This includes Live viewing plus any playback within the measurement period; Timeshifted TV is playback primarily on a DVR but includes playback from VOD, DVD Recorders and services like Start Over. TV in the home includes Live usage plus any playback viewing within the measurement period. Timeshifted TV is playback primarily on a DVR but includes playback from VOD, DVD Recorders and services like Start Over.

    @streeter I saw that partnership announcement and would love to see what Goog can do with it. And to clarify, I like the timeshift, but I still try to tune in same bat time same bat channel to catch a show when it airs.

  9. Streeter

    There are definitely benefits to not watching a show time-shifted these days. With the real-time stream becoming even more popular, there is a social incentive to watch sooner so as to interact with friends who are also watching it. And then there is also an incentive to watch sooner to prevent spoilers. There are shows that I watch (eg. The Office) just a few minutes after they regularly start (to avoid commercials) just so I can interact with friends shortly after the conclusion of the show. And then there are times when I don’t want to wait any longer (Top Chef – I’m also a Kevin fan).

  10. George Murray

    I watch all of my television timeshifted but I am def in the 1%. If I had a preference, I’d like to watch TV with other people, and I think most people would agree with that. I think that I’m lowering the priority for going out of my way to watch with others, when I can do it on my own time.

    I think this points towards TV watching groups that are more focused than the 100,000’s being broadcast to at once. I do think the social aspect of TV watching (social interactions + timeliness) are not going away.

  11. Gunnar Harboe

    These numbers seem hard to reconcile with the ones reported here: http://newteevee.com/2008/11/07/dvr-users-younger-shifting-half-their-programs/

    While that report discusses prime-time viewing specifically, can that really account for a gap between 11% (wrt the five main networks) and 1.15%? While I know it’s dangerous to extrapolate from your own social network (especially when that network is made up of TiVo owners and hulu viewers), 40% time-shifted viewing among DVR users sounds much more in the ballpark to me, based on my anecdotal experience.

    It’s also worth noting that while both sets of figures come from Nielsen, they are not an entirely disinterested party. It would be interesting to supplement this information with data from TiVo Analytics, for example.

  12. naaman

    I’m with Streeter. Can definitely see how “real time” TV becomes more important to people like us 1-percenters, because of the social streams.

    Meanwhile, here in NYC, we haven’t watched live TV all year. All time-shifted. In fact, when T was traveling last week and mentioned she watched 30 Rock, I was dumbfounded, knowing that she couldn’t stream it from her hotel room. Didn’t even imagine that she (actually) meant she watched the “real time” TV broadcast.

  13. Elizabeth Gough-Gordon

    It’s an old joke in television studies (my field) that one day we’ll all be able to write-off our cable fees on our yearly taxes as a work expense. However, most people that I have encountered who research television viewing do not watch it in the traditional “live” setting. I am an anomaly in that I prefer to watch certain programming “live” (such as my beloved Yankees games) and others time-shifted (like “Hell’s Kitchen,” which shrinks a one hour episode to just over 40 minutes).

    Christine Quail wrote an interesting critique of online television viewing on FlowTV: http://flowtv.org/?p=4132.

  14. ayman Post author

    @Gunner – nice find: I think the 9% deficit can be accounted for by prime time usage actually. 40% among DVR users (approx 30% of the USA viewers) sounds right…I think they projected round 1% of all viewing happens on a Timeshifted DVR.

    @Elizabeth – thanks for the FlowTV link! I’ve been examining how people tweet when they watch live events on TV (hence my interest in no timeshifts). You can check out my first study, looking at the debates from last year: http://research.yahoo.com/pub/2851

  15. Tom Eckles

    As an old fart, just wanted to post that when a tv broadcast like Formula 1 racing was to show during a time when I could watch it live, I ALWAYS waited about 30 mins to be able to spin past the commericals. I can wait a few mins to not wait them during the race.. tho they still happen

  16. Bruce

    It’s an old joke in television studies (my field) that one day we’ll all be able to write-off our cable fees on our yearly taxes as a work expense. However, most people that I have encountered who research television viewing do not watch it in the traditional “live” setting. I am an anomaly in that I prefer to watch certain programming “live” (such as my beloved Yankees games) and others time-shifted (like “Hell’s Kitchen,” which shrinks a one hour episode to just over 40 minutes).

    Christine Quail wrote an interesting critique of online television viewing on FlowTV: http://flowtv.org/?p=4132.

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