The NY Times imitates The Onion with a story on how people watch TV using DVRs

There’s something almost parody-like in this story on how viewers who use digital video recorders, DVRs (like TiVo), don’t always fast-foward through commercials. It seems like the story could appear in The Onion, as writers for that parody newspaper are at their best when they mock our self-obsession with discovering the obvious. Their brilliance shines when they produce breaking news about some teenager in Ohio realizing something about his acne. The New York Times story — with its photo of a couple from Knoxville sitting on their sofa with their dog watching TV — is a classic Onion story.

The story rounds up some experts and TV viewers to explain what the reporter and editors apparently think readers believe is an amazing and inexplicable phenomenon: People who record TV shows don’t always skip the commercials.

The quotes would work wonderfully in a parody story in The Onion as they are clichés of obviousness:

“People are buying DVRs not because they want to time-shift all of their viewing and skip all commercials, but because they want to time-shift some of their viewing.”

“But sometimes I do watch (commercials) — only if they capture me.”

“My son doesn’t understand why other people cannot pause their TV when they need to go to the bathroom…”

“When you talk to an advertiser it is like ‘Oh god, I’ve got to go on to the Internet because on television these people are fast-forwarding through the commercials…”

All this makes me wonder why those who create advertising don’t go out and purchase a TiVo and subject themselves to a few hundred hours of watching the types of programs on which their advertising appears. They would discover how it changes ones viewing patterns and how advertising can work within the context of a world in which DVRs are the norm.

I have a few theories of obviousness on the topic, myself:

1. People who are holding the remote control in their hand are extremely aware of the commercials being zoomed through. They must be to learn the visual cues that alert them that the commercial block is about to finish. Often, the person with the control is being judged by a second party for their finesse in stopping the fast-forwarding at the precise time it needs to stop, so, therefore a second party is also engaged in looking at the sped up commercials.

2. As a hardcore DVR user, I’ve come to the conclusion that one-location, continuous-scene ads are more likely to cause me to stop and view them. Those who create Apple advertising understand this — or are lucky. Both the iPod and “I’m a Mac” campaigns have visual cues that hold together for the entire 30 seconds of the commercial. The scenic context of the ad remains the same for the entire 30 seconds. The first time I see a new commercial that appears within that context, I’ll stop and view it. Sometimes, I’ll stop and view it again. Subsequently, everytime I see it as I fast-forward, I recall it.

3. Even though I’ve used a DVR for over a year — and use it a lot — I still sometimes forget that I can fast-forward through a commercial as, even with a DVR, the TV is on in the background of something else I’m doing — most likely, on my computer. Which begs the other obvious question to advertisers: Do you really think people are sitting there watching your commercials even if they don’t have the ability to fast-forward through them. No, they use that time to focus on the other two or three things they are doing while they watch the programs.

4. Once you use a DVR to watch any type of program that has commercials embedded in it, you realize how much advertising you are subjected to in the typical one-hour of network TV. You grow queazy at the thought.

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